In college, I took an aging and communication course during my senior year. It essentially was what the title would suggest — a look at how communication changes throughout the aging process.
Instead of just using the textbook (and a screening of “Tuesdays with Morrie”), the professor took it a step further with something that was a standout moment of my collegiate learning experience. Dr. Baldwin invited five senior citizens to present in the class one day, and it wasn’t to explore communication as they’ve aged.
Rather, the presentation focused on the concept of lifelong learning and how that influences aging and communication. The point being that lifelong learning keeps the brain active and curious, making it less likely for the brain to hit roadblocks involving memory loss. (Well, it’s still likely as every brain is different, but this tends to slow the process.)
Anyway, these five people stood in front of the class and talked about the different ways they’ve continued to learn outside of traditional schooling. Some of them volunteered, some continued taking classes at community colleges or park districts.
While it wasn’t the specifics of what they did that stood out to me, it’s the fact they made an effort to keep pushing themselves to learn and develop as individuals. I made a promise to myself right then that I would continue to learn even after turning the tassel and leaving the classroom behind.
In middle school — when I thought I’d hit the precipice of difficult learning and responsibility — I told myself I’d never pick up another book after I was done with school. While I’m still no fan of math, I can’t relate to that 10-year-old way of thinking when it comes to learning. I totally took it for granted, and now I absolutely love learning.
I think I just had to figure out how to best get along with learning, and reading a dry textbook chapter about Thomas Jefferson just wasn’t cutting it. I retained more listening to “Hamilton” than I ever did in a U.S. history class.
Now that I have a better understanding of the way my brain works and how it likes to gather information, it makes perfect sense that I wound up where I am. Getting to talk to different people every day about a variety of topics is fascinating. One of the best ways to learn more about a topic is to talk to someone who is passionate about said topic, and journalists get to experience that every day.
Learning continues outside of work, too. I recently ignited an old idea I had where I take 52 sticky notes and write a different subject on each one. Then once per week, I pick one at random and spend time learning about that topic. These topics range from 401(k)s to things that have no direct impact on my life like orca whales.
While I’ll never be a marine biologist (maybe someday in the George Costanza way, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there), it makes me happy to share little factoids — like that these whales are almost as long as a school bus.
I urge you to think about the importance of lifelong learning and figure out how to best fit it into your life. Whether it’s taking a class or watching documentaries, furthering your brain is one of the best things you can do for yourself.