[perfectpullquote align=”left” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“So, how are you doing with your continuing education credits?”[/perfectpullquote]

We architects ask each other this question biennially in the hopes that we’re not alone in the requirement to demonstrate that we have learned something over the last two years. Most licensed professionals are required to validate that we’ve been learning something since the days of class schedules and report cards. Although I end up trudging through the paperwork to prove that I’ve retained some external knowledge applicable to my work, I sometimes wish that I could somehow report that I learned something today.

 Of course, whether one’s in a licensed profession or not, we all typically learn something every day; it’s our nature. However, if we make a mindful effort to, we can enhance our daily learning into conscious efforts that are more relevant and associative…and lifelong.

While the idea of continuous learning is not new, it is a trending and critical notion. According to the Collegiate Employment Research Institute, 78 percent of employers say they value an employee’s work experience and their ability to do the job more than they do a particular academic degree. Moreover, many companies are now requiring their employees to obtain “micro-credentials,” such as badges and certificates, that indicate learning beyond their degreed knowledge.

This can all sound exhausting and, coupled with the thought of doing this for the rest of your life, more than a little overwhelming.

The thing is, lifelong learning doesn’t need to be daunting, nor solely related to our jobs. Think of it this way: Lifelong learning is simply a form of self-initiated instruction that is directed towards personal development.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””] Lifelong learning is like finally being able to take all the electives you ever wanted to, and at your own pace. When framed like this, the thought of lifelong learning becomes a beautiful and stimulating concept.[/perfectpullquote]

Whether it’s developing a new skill, learning a new sport or activity, or grasping a new technology, the options are endless and require only a commitment to your own personal growth.

There are many benefits to adding the concept of lifelong learning to your routine. Taking time to learn something new can offer a renewed sense of self-motivation and elevate our self-confidence both personally and professionally. Learning things because we want to, rather than because we have to, can be energizing. Figuring out what intrigues you and then learning about it can help you become more self-aware, mentally healthy, and in control of what drives you.

As I mentioned earlier, most people tend to learn something new every day just by talking with others or engaging in a personal interest they’ve researched. However, a more ordered strategy may be necessary should one desire a more intentional understanding for personal, family, or career reasons. Lifelong learning should be about you, not necessarily what others want.

A Three-Point Path to Lifelong Learning

Try to take inventory of what motivates you. Recognize your specific interests and goals. If you want to advance your career, then there are ways to participate in self-directed learning to accomplish that goal. If you want to learn about European history for your own gratification, then there are self-directed ways to learn about that, too. Once you know what captivates you, explore what it is about that particular interest or goal that makes you want to add it to your repertoire of knowledge. Let this fuel your learning.

Make a list of these interests and set out a task plan to methodically achieve what you’re after. Incidentally, always be fully aware of any and all training and professional development that your employer offers. (Also, if you see a class, seminar or conference that would make you smarter at work, it never hurts to ask if your company would cover the cost of your participation.)

You should expect a lifestyle change to accompany any commitment to advance your lifelong learning goals. But these changes don’t necessarily need to be drastic. Skip the sitcom and watch a documentary. Substitute the music for a relevant podcast. Strike up conversations about what others are learning. Research public library offerings or local clubs that align with your goals.

Devoting time and effort to continuous learning will result in a personal sense of accomplishment and will renew the belief we have in ourselves and our knowledge—as well as the confidence and ability to apply it.

So, what elective you signing up for today?