Written by Miri Korbman
In an age where YouTube tutorials can turn “Average Joes” into experts overnight, learning is quickly becoming a lost art. Terms like “teacher” and “student” are being rendered superfluous to the culture of “self-made”, “self-taught”, and “do-it-yourself”. Lifelong learners, however, make sure to have mentors that can provide continued guidance, and are always open to learning new things, even about themselves. The attitudes and practices of these individuals have many potential benefits for emotional and psychological well-being. Though school is still out for the summer, let’s explore two positive influences that continued learning could have on our lives:
- Connecting with Others
One of the primary sources of interpersonal strife is the sense that “I am right”. When we believe that we have learned all there is to know about a topic, or worse – all there is to know about ourselves – we become arrogant, wary of other peoples’ advice, and altogether less accepting of others. This leads us to disconnect from our loved ones, our friends, or our coworkers, and can add untold stress and negativity to our daily lives. Lifelong learners, however, are always receiving guidance, long after graduation from formal education. This invaluable mentorship enables us to interact in a more positive way with others. Learning from a mentor can therefore save us much interpersonal struggle. However, this requires being open to constructive criticism – learning to accept criticism from our mentors, coworkers, or even friends is a foundation of what it means to be a perpetual learner, and is an integral part of working well with and for others. Thus, instead of being wholly convinced that we are always right in our opinions, beliefs, or methodologies, having a mentor teaches us the most important lesson of all: the humility to recognize that others may be right even if we think we know better. Though it is of course important, even imperative, to have certain values and standards that remain firm and consistent, rigidity and a lack of openness to accepting guidance are counterproductive. As Winston Churchill once said, “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It serves the same function as pain in the human body; it calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” Learning to accept criticism is pivotal to interpersonal relationships.
Another problem with feeling that “I am right” is that we are not, in fact, always right. This is particularly problematic when it comes to our own self-awareness. When we think we know everything there is to know about ourselves, the way we operate, or our limitations, we become unwilling to try new things, even if they will benefit us. If we are convinced that we alone really know what to do for ourselves, we will be very hesitant to comply with even the best well-meaning advice, and miss out on many opportunities. Imagine a young entrepreneur named Bob has just been offered a prestigious position at a Fortune 500 company. The only problem with this dream job is that Bob has a fierce phobia of heights – and his office is on the 59th floor. He approaches his therapist (a modern form of mentor) for help.
Bob: Doc, you gotta help me get over this fear of heights- it’s going to ruin my career!
Doc: Ok, Bob, I think we can help you get through this. Let’s start by having you go up to the 10th floor.
Bob: NO WAY! Are you crazy!? I know myself- I could NEVER do that! I’ll die!
And so Bob leaves his therapist’s office, continues to be afraid of heights, and never does accept his would-be-dream-job, turning down the opportunity to learn from a real live human being (i.e., a mentor), because of the conviction that he was right. Being willing and able to accept guidance from a mentor is integral to personal and psychological growth. It is often scary to push ourselves through new experiences, even when it is those very experiences that we need to grow. If we are looking to be perpetual learners and are open to the advice and even criticism of others, finding a mentor (or therapist) from whom we can receive this guidance can help us to set ourselves up for success in our emotional and psychological lives, as well.
In sum, being a perpetual student means remaining open to new experiences, new ideas, and new ways to learn, but it also means being able to learn from a mentor! Cultivating the ability to receive from others, be it knowledge or critique, can help us to develop emotionally and intellectually, and shape us into more patient, receptive, knowledgeable, and personable people. Perhaps this summer – before the school year starts again – we can rethink what it means to be a lifelong learner, no matter the season, and identify mentors that we can turn to for advice.