4 Ways to Be a Lifelong Learner (and Why It’s So Important)

When was the last time you tried something new for the first time?

The drive to learn comes naturally to some of us, myself included. Becoming board certified in cosmetic surgery took over a decade of intense training—but thanks to taking my education further, I get to work in a field I am passionate about and know I am giving patients my very best. My thirst for education has even compelled me to share my knowledge and resources with others, which I do professionally in my field, as well as locally via the Women in STEM Excel (WISE) Scholarship.

But if the word “learning” instead makes you think of boring lectures, cramped desks, and #2 pencils, keep reading. Anyone can become a lifelong learner, and emerge a happier, healthier person as a result.

There is always a benefit to learning something new!

Take this story about a woman who graduated college at age 99. That degree is highly unlikely to “pay for itself” financially, but the sense of accomplishment she gained from the experience is worth its weight in gold. This isn’t to say there are not financial and professional benefits. Just read this article in the Harvard Review for evidence of the advantages lifelong learners have over those who forgo learning opportunities.

Being a lifelong learner takes confidence and humility, unabashed curiosity and the ability to recognize (and overcome) fear, and asking for help. In your career, hobbies, and personal relationships, these are important traits to cultivate.

Now that you’re sold on becoming a lifelong learner, here are a few ways to get started.

1. Seize opportunities to advance your professional skills.

It’s easy to fall into a routine of eat, work, sleep, repeat. If you’ve been feeling stagnant or uninspired lately, seek out additional certifications or coursework in your field. You’ll energize your work, become more appealing to prospective employers, and open doors you never knew existed.

2. Travel somewhere new every year.

As our neighbor Rick Steves says, travel “helps you understand and appreciate different cultures…It broadens perspectives and teaches new ways to measure quality of life.” You’ll experience new people, places and customs, and learn about yourself too—how you handle unfamiliar surroundings, new foods you love, etc.—things you’d never know staying home in your comfort zone.

3. Spend time volunteering in your own community.

Volunteering is a great way to gain new skills while getting to know more people in your community. You don’t have to be a carpenter to work on a Habitat for Humanity home—but it’s a great way to learn some DIY home repair. Volunteering at a nursing home will teach you patience and appreciation for health, plus you’ll learn from the wisdom of older generations.  

4. Take the class you’ve always been too afraid to try.

We often avoid doing things that could make us look foolish, but you’ll free yourself by getting over your fears. Whether you want to try a dance class, learn a new language, or an instrument, find a class or teacher and take lessons—or teach yourself using YouTube. You may never be world-class, but you’ll be building brain cells and having fun. What’s not to love about that?

Final words: you get to define what it means to be a lifelong learner. It’s not about being seen as an “expert” at everything you do—it’s about what you get from the experience.

Alexander Sobel

Alexander Sobel

Dr. Alexander Sobel is the owner of Anderson Sobel Cosmetic Surgery and President of the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery. He is an award-winning, triple board certified surgeon in general cosmetic surgery, cosmetic facial surgery, and otolaryngology, and is widely known for his commitment to the highest standards of safety and compassionate patient-centered care. A lifelong learner himself, Dr. Sobel is a cosmetic surgery fellowship director, serves as a panelist at national academy meetings, and lectures on a variety of topics.
Alexander Sobel

Latest posts by Alexander Sobel (see all)