The Value Of Being A Lifelong Learner

I love that song by Johnny Cash – I’ve Been Everywhere, because I have been. I have traveled all over the United States with one job and I’ve traveled all over the world with another. The topic today is lifelong learner.

When I took each of those jobs, I was very confident in myself. I thought I knew everything. I didn’t know anything.

When I started traveling around the world, I needed to learn different cultures. I needed to learn different ways of doing business, and how families interacted, and how education was achieved in those countries. I need to learn who their border disputes were with and their history, which was, in most cases, a much deeper and longer history than the United States of America where I was coming from.

When I traveled around the United States, I realized that people were different in many ways, but same in others. Learn to take advantage of those environmental situations that you’re in and just absorb as a sponge, everything you can about that culture and about that person, that religion, that leadership style.

It makes you a better person. You need to be a lifelong learner. I’ve learned an awful lot of lessons in my career. They weren’t always from good experiences. I’ve had bad bosses. I’ve been in bad jobs. I’ve been in difficult situations which I wished I could have avoided.

But you know what? I learned from every one of those cases. I had a boss that taught me bad time management. I became a better manager of time because of it.

Let me give you another example. When I was in my 30s, I became the president of the Los Angeles Zoo Association. I had been in fundraising. I had run membership organizations. I knew how to work with people, but I really didn’t know much about animals, or captive breeding programs, or the importance of wildlife preservation.

I learned that from day one at the zoo. I gathered around me the docents, the men and women that volunteer at the zoo, that could teach me the important principles I needed to know to be the leader of the Zoo Association, so I could raise the money and run the operation in a successful way. I read books as fast as I could to understand the issues that were facing us in the 1980s.

By the time I had been president of that organization for a couple of years, I felt like I had been doing it all my life. But that was only achieved because I saw the value of being a lifelong learner.

I could have sat back and just said, “I know how to raise money. I know how to run retail operations. I know how to talk with people.”  But, I really didn’t know the product. I didn’t know the services, and the mission of a zoo association, and a program that cared about saving the California Condor, the Arabian Oryx, and the Sumatran Rhino.

Once I understood the importance of those programs, I had the passion and the enthusiasm I needed for getting the mission accomplished.

The power of learning never ends. I’ve been on this earth a long time, and I’m still learning something new everyday, and you should too. I ask you to take away that commitment today to be a lifelong learner. Whether it’s by reading a book, or watching something on a video, or sitting down and having an espresso with somebody in a cafe someplace and finding out about their life and their culture.

Commit to do that each and every day. Find a new person, sit next to a stranger and get to know them. And when you have a bad boss, learn from him or her.


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