Be a Lifelong Learner

We live in an information age. So much knowledge is accessible right under our finger tips. We can search online for countless information on topics that are just as endless. It is a marvel sight to behold. I cannot stress enough how seemingly unlimited amount of resources are out there for free.

Just within the internet we have: websites dedicated to online courses and educational videos; forums for countless discussions; free e-books; and competitions. With so many opportunities for learning and growth, there is practically nothing that a person can’t learn.

I don’t know if you understand the magnitude of what I’m saying, but it is simply AMAZING.

Want to learn the technical skills that plumbers, electricians, and carpenters know? You can do that.

Want to learn a different language, perhaps even a computer programming language? You can do that.

Want to learn how to travel around the world on a tight budget, or learn how to be a digital nomad? You can do that.

Want to become an entrepreneur by creating your own company, hiring freelancers, or learning how to sell your own products? You can do that.

Any questions you can come up with, there is a very high possibility that someone out there already has the answer.

All that is required of you is to ask the right questions. Ask the questions, search them up, and learn. That is how the journey of a lifelong learner begins.

Curiosity Is All You Need

We’ve all heard the proverb before that ‘curiosity killed the cat’, but that’s just nonsense when it comes to learning. Sometimes we have to be bold and take a risk. Otherwise, how do we break through the barriers of our existing knowledge? If knowledge is finite and we don’t take the risk to explore and investigate, then we will forever be limited by what we know. I guess that is why there’s a second lesser known part to the proverb, ‘curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back’.

How do we continue on learning new things, even venturing into unknown territories of knowledge? Perhaps you already know the answer, but we can only proceed forward by being curious. Curiosity is all you need to learn. You don’t need to have an in-depth understanding of anything before you can learn. There may be prerequisites, that is to say fundamentals that you must learn before proceeding onto harder topics that build on them. For example, if you want to learn calculus, you must learn algebra first. If you don’t, then no amount of curiosity can prepare you for the headache of not understanding what you are reading.

But if you are curious and aware, you would understand that when you don’t understand something, you take a step back and learn from the basics. You learn algebra. You take your time to master arithmetic and algebra before you proceed to calculus. After succeeding in learning calculus, you open up doorways for new adventures in learning.

Heck, rocket science, engineering, physics, and all those sciency knowledge doesn’t seem that hard now, right? You already succeeded in learning something hard; all those topics follow a similar thinking pattern. How can they be hard when you established a connection between these fields of knowledge?

This is what I want you to get. Knowledge builds on one another. To learn effectively, learn topics that are related to one another. We know this is true because schools and colleges do this. Why do you think students study in their majors? Because the knowledge that students acquire are all connected to one another. A business student will learn accounting, finance, economics, math, and others. These topics all relate to one another, creating a cohesive learning experience. Eventually you end up learning more and more of less and less. This is because what you learn reaches the barrier of existing knowledge in a specific, particular field.

When you reach further from this point, you get a PHD in your field of knowledge. Now you get to expand on what we know and find out all the amazing things that we don’t know yet. This is one path to learning. It is the one that most of us are aware of because in society we have many people who specialize in a particular field of knowledge. They are our professors, doctors, lawyers, etc, etc.

Another path to learning is the lifelong learner. Fueled by curiosity, you learn anything that interests you. You learn for the sake of learning. You learn for the sake of acquiring new skills. This is the path that I want for you.

I have known many students who took learning as a chore. Learning was something that was required of them. I understand how they feel. I was a student just like them. When you grow up spending the majority of your childhood in school, you basically live your life in academia. You grow to associate learning with getting a good grade.

When you learn for the sake of getting a good grade, you are not really learning. Trust me on that. I remembered at the end of each semester in college, I would throw away all my notes, and sell all my textbooks. I told myself that since I finished my last exam, it was time to forget all the junk that I learned during the past few months. That was my mentality towards learning. Yeah I got good grades, but I didn’t retain any knowledge or skills.

Let me tell you something. Learning only happens when you care about learning. Otherwise, no amount of lecture, of teaching can impart any knowledge to you. This made me realize that as a math teacher, the content of what I teach is not important. I don’t care if my students can solve algebraic equations, or postulate different geometry theorems. What is important is if I can instill within my students a desire to learn by igniting their curiosity.

If you are curious, you look at the world with wonder and awe. You ask yourself the question, “How does that work?” and seek out answers. When you finally understand something, you give a loud shout. “Ah-ha, so that is how it works!?” Can you picture yourself in that state of awareness, satisfaction, and laughter? I know you can. It is a great state to be in.

Nothing to Lose, Everything to Gain

My parents often say, “If I only know English, I wouldn’t need your help in translating anything.”  I hear this statement very often and I always tell them to learn English. Their response is that they are too old or that they don’t have the time.

We can always come up with excuses to justify our response. But doing so only reinforces our ignorance. We’ve all heard the saying that ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’. The main reason you can’t teach an old dog new tricks is because of fear.

Some people live in a ‘frog in a well’ mentality. That is to say they have limited knowledge about the world. When you view the world from your own limited perspective, any new knowledge can be seen as a threat to your current views and beliefs.

You are afraid of the unknown, even more afraid that learning about it will turn your world upside down. So you tell yourself that it is safer if you don’t risk learning new things. After all ignorance is bliss. Why expend so much effort learning something new, only to add an extra layer of anxiety and confusion on top of what you currently know?

What if I tell you that this way of thinking is wrong? What if I tell you the exact opposite is true. Only when you take the initiative to learn can you overcome your fears and doubts. When you learn, you gather more knowledge. The more knowledge you have, the better your comparison and analysis of information will be. Only then could actions be intelligent.

When you are limited in what you know, you are limited in what you can do. Think about this for a moment.

My parents don’t want to take the effort to learn English. They make excuses not to learn. I can say that my parents are lazy, but there is more to this situation. My parents are fearful that their efforts will be in vain. They believed that since they lived in America for over two decades and they still haven’t fully understood the language, then there is no possibility for them to learn it. My parents are fearful that they will fail and make mistakes. Surely they survived living in a country without proper English for so long, so why embarrass one’s pride by going back to school or waste recreational time?

Can you see a pattern here? People refuse to learn because they are limited in their reaction. How can my parents be responsible for their own learning, if they don’t have the ability to choose their response? This is why old habits die hard. It is easier to keep these old habits because it is something that people are familiar and comfortable with.

Why strike out into the unknown when I am comfortable with what I know. I can always cover up what I don’t know with a bunch of excuses. How can I be sad about what I don’t know if I don’t know what I am missing? These are the thoughts that we broadcast when we are ignorant.

Let me be fully honest with you. When we learn, we have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

You can argue that when we learn, we can fail and make mistakes. How can we gain anything from mistakes and failures? Guess what? We can. We can learn from mistakes and failures. In fact, what you learn from mistakes and failures are far more invaluable than anything you will learn from reading a book.

When was the last mistake you made? How did you feel? I bet you can recall with great clarity and pain about your mistakes and failures. What you learn from mistakes and failures will stick with you for a long, long time for two main reasons. One, you have to overcome and correct your mistakes. Two, there is a personal, emotional connection to the learning experience, further solidifying it in you.

The best thing about learning from mistakes and failures is that they are repetitious. If you don’t learn from them once, you will repeat your mistakes and failures until you have learned your lesson. Else, you will keep experiencing setbacks and further pain.

You can say, “Luigi, what if I don’t like what I am learning, what do I do then?”

The only response I can give is to use your own judgments. If what you learn no longer interests you, or you no longer find joy in it, then it may be a good idea to change course.

You see, some people may say that you’ve spend so much time and effort into learning something. Abandoning it may be a bad idea. Let me tell you, it is a great idea.

How else will you find out what you really like to do? Life isn’t linear. There is no straight path or the right path of how one should live their lives. It is ok to start over.

My logic is this. Every time you start over, you gain clarity in your own passions. Sometimes, the only way to find out if you like learning or doing something is to do them. If you like what you do, continue on the path to learn more. If not, redirect your attention elsewhere. There are so many things you can learn in this lifetime and you will not learn them all. Why waste time bickering over wasted time, it’s not like you are getting it back.

On the bright side, you have broadened your scope of knowledge. You decided that what you learned wasn’t right for you, so you explored something new. Tell me, which one is the smarter choice. Being stuck doing and learning something that no longer resonates with you, or having the courage and intelligence to choose and create your own learning experience in life. The latter, of course.

Reasons to Learn

Students often have a common question that all teachers have to answer. “What is the purpose of learning [insert subject here]?” I hear this very often and I ask myself the same question. What is the purpose of learning math? What is the purpose of learning anything at all? Here’s my response:

The reason why you learn math is to build a foundation of knowledge that supports you in your path of growth. What we learn in school are elementary knowledge, if you understand and comprehend them, you open up doorways for opportunities in understanding even more complex subjects that build on them. I’m not here to torture you or torment you by teaching you math. I am here to engage your mind to think logically, and to teach you how to solve problems analytically.

Ultimately it is up to you to determine if what you are learning is valuable or not. The subject doesn’t matter. Just by living life, you will learn. And anything you learn, you will acquire skills. Heck, some of you are more skilled in operating certain social media apps than I am. Perhaps you have better social and interpersonal skills than I have. Perhaps you don’t see them as skills because they are so ingrained into who you are as traits and characteristics, but you are not born with them. You learned them.

If you think that learning math is useless, that is fine. It just means that that subject is not something you care about or have passion in. All this is a learning process. You find that there is a mismatch in what you care about and what you are learning, so you voice your opinions. You have two choices. You can choose to learn what I teach and try. Or you can choose to not learn what I teach and not try. Both choices have their respective consequences. These consequences can come in the form of affecting your grades. Now, it is up to you to determine if you value a letter grade or not.

I will be totally honest with you. There is nothing I can teach of value that which you aren’t willing to learn yourself. Besides nothing has value, at least no more than the value you give it. What I want for you is to learn and grow. Each time you learn, you connect with the world. You explore your own passions and opportunities that you never know existed. You become self reliant because you can solve any problems by learning about possible solutions. You acquire new skills that people value.

Why do you think I’m writing all of this? To share with you what I learned! Duh!