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During my first year of college, while walking toward the bus after classes, I met a surprising woman. She had to have been well into her 80’s or possibly her 90’s. She was classically dressed in a black skirt, white button down shirt, and orthopedic shoes. Her white hair was pulled up in a sleek bun and behind her she wheeled what looked like a heavy backpack. When I first saw her, I thought she was lost. Then, I thought maybe she was a professor. I never guessed she would be a student.
I ran up to her and asked if I could help her with her bag. She was grateful and we walked together toward the science building. I learned that she was a student at this university and she was taking graduate classes in nutrition and food science. This intrigued me. She was quick to admit she was auditing the classes. Her reasons were that she wasn’t after a degree and didn’t want to take up space in a graduate program that could be occupied by younger students looking for a career. She said she was interested in learning about food science and that it was always something that fascinated her. I was absolutely floored. Here I was, a 19-year-old psychology major who was considering changing her major because a graduate degree seemed way too far off to be realistic. Yet here stood a woman, older than my grandma, who was eagerly studying in a graduate program that she would never get a diploma for.
My interaction with this woman impacted my life and completely changed the way I view education. Although I am an advocate of formal education, I majored in it, I am an even bigger advocate of organic learning. For a lot of people, the best kind of learning happens when we aren’t doing it for a grade.
Maybe you think you’re done with school and so your “real learning” has stopped. Maybe you feel like with little kids there is no way you have time to learn. Or maybe you really can’t think of anything you want to learn and so you just keep plugging away at your day-to-day life. Let me assure you that “real learning” happens outside of a classroom, you do have time to learn even with little kids, and there is something you want to learn you just need to make it a priority.
How do I find time to learn?
We cannot make a goal to learn about something without redirecting a chunk of our time to doing it. The extra time does not come out of thin air, we must take it from something we are already doing.
Before you complain that you just don’t have the time, take an honest look at your life. Is every minute of your life really spent doing supremely important things? How many minutes a day do you spend mindlessly scrolling through your Facebook feed? Or pinning random things on Pinterest that you never make the time to try? Do you mindlessly watch episode after episode of New Girl on Netflix at night to “unwind”? While it’s totally fine to take a break occasionally from focus-draining tasks and do something mindless for a few minutes, we have a tendency of letting that train run free and losing a lot of precious time in the name of taking “breaks.”
I guarantee that if you make the use of your time intentional, you will find pockets of time that could be spent strengthening your brain and learning something new. You just have to be conscious about how you actually spend your time and not how you tell yourself you spend it.
What Should I Learn?
There are any number of things we can learn that will improve our life in some way. Here are a list of questions to get you started.
What will help me improve my life right now if I knew more about it?
Maybe you’ve noticed that some moms seem to have it together and make dinner every night when you feel like it is an impossible task. If you knew a little more about cooking or meal planning and prep, could it make that easier for you? What if you looked into make ahead freezer meals? Or maybe your struggle is saving money. You just can’t seem to figure out how to get your head above water. If you knew of different options and strategies out there to help people save money, could you possibly benefit from that?
What have I always been interested in?
What is that one thing you were always interested in but never pursued because of other things that came up in life? In the past, were you able to carry on long, deep conversations about philosophy? Does human anatomy absolutely fascinate you? Or forensic science? Or maybe you’re drawn to studying other cultures or languages. There is no limit to what you can learn if it piques your interest.
What are my hobbies?
Or if you’re a busy mom, what were your hobbies? I know for a long time after I started having kids I gave up on my hobbies because I felt like I didn’t have time anymore. I finally realized that having a hobby is paramount, no matter how much or how little time you have. Did you used to enjoy photography? Or making paper crafts? Or maybe you’ve always wanted to learn to crochet but other things always got in the way. It’s possible to make a little time each week to focus on a hobby.
What do my loved ones need help with?
Is there something someone in your family needs help with right now? Do you have a depressed teenager that you don’t know what to do with? Or a defiant toddler who seems to rule your house? Maybe your husband is trying to start his own business but could benefit from a little help from you. There are ways to learn about all these topics if we make the time for it.
How can I learn?
Now that you know what you want to learn, here is a list of some different ways you can go about it.
Let us never forget the classic, tried and true way of learning, books. There are so many incredible books out there, old and new. There are different ways of reading books. There are physical books, ebooks, and audiobooks. There are abridged versions, nonabridged versions, cliffnotes, and summaries of books. You can buy books, rent books, trade books, or borrow books. You may even already have a book you intended to read but never got around to it.
One of my favorite things to do while cleaning is listen to books. Since routine cleaning is such a mindless task to me, I can thoroughly enjoy a new book while I do it and it passes the time so much faster. Instead of dreading the task of cleaning the bathroom, I can look forward to it because I get to listen to this awesome book. I usually listen to free books from my local library with an app called overdrive on my phone. Ask your local library if they offer audiobooks and they can probably get you set up. If not, audible has most any book you can think of in audio version. You can try audible for free for a month with two free audiobooks. If you have Amazon Prime, you can get 3 free months of audible, with a free book each month.
Check your local college for community courses to see if one strikes your fancy. You might also be able to audit real college classes if you’re not interested in earning credits. Or you could try sites such as Udemy or Coursera to find online courses on your topic of interest. Many of them are free.
If you’ve never listened to a podcast then you are missing out! The best way to describe them would be sort of like a radio show I guess, only on demand. So you can search for certain topics or browse different categories. Sometimes I like to even google “best podcasts for…” whatever topic I’m interested in. You can download certain episodes and subscribe to your favorite podcasts. There’s a lot to be learned on the podcast platform.
Clubs or Groups
If you are lucky enough to have clubs or groups in your area dedicated to what you’re interested in, you should definitely consider joining. For instance, say you are interested in learning more about homeschooling your children. If you know of someone in your community who homeschools, get with that person to ask if there are others and if they meet regularly. See if they would mind if you popped in to learn a little more. Or maybe you’re interested in making some homemade decor for your house. Do you know anybody who is particularly good at that? Maybe you could invite this person to start a craft club with you and ask your friends if they would be interested in doing a craft night once a month to make something for their home. The possibilities are endless! The fun about this is that you get to learn with other people. So girls night out just got educational 🙂
Check out local conferences or events where experts come to speak or give classes for a day. These are sometimes an investment but may well be worth it to you. You can also make this one a little more social by inviting your spouse or a good friend to attend with you.
There is so much in life that we can learn and benefit from yet we sometimes get stuck in this rut where we know what we know and that’s all we care about or have energy for. Get rid of your mindset that learning takes place at school and become a lifelong learner where learning takes place in every location and situation. Be an example to your children that learning is important, fun, and should be a lifelong endeavor.
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Tell me, what are you going to start with? How do you plan on learning about it? Have you tried any of these ideas or do you have others?