Learn how continued study can lead to personal growth and a deeper understanding of the world around us
What if I told you that the pursuit of knowledge transformed my life during one of the world’s most challenging times?
Some days ago I saw a post by a friend of mine, who was attending a motivational convention. A personal coach, who’s quite famous in my country, was holding the lesson she attended. My friend posted a short video of a moment at the convention, explaining her happiness to be there and her excitement for the challenges ahead.
She is a nice and smart person; and she is one of the strongest women I have ever met. She came across horrible moments in her life, and she kept on believing in a radiant future.
Despite her unquestionable deep mind, I am sure she was going to lose time and money at that convention. But I understand why she attended it.
Some years ago, I was in the same situation; I had a feeling very near to the imposter syndrome. I didn’t exactly feel like an imposter, but I felt inadequate and even incompetent, although I had more than twenty years of experience in my job. So, my friend’s post reminded me of when I was eager to have a professional background. I missed an academic title, and for many years, I had been seeking studies to bridge the gap between me and my graduate friends.
Besides, according to Forbes, lifelong learning can boost self-confidence, self-esteem, and mental health¹. So, I started attending classes on leadership, entrepreneurship, and negotiation, among others. I went through a whole catalog of what I later realized were time-consuming and mostly useless courses.
I felt I was filling my gap, and I was pretty satisfied with my “keeping on studying for the rest of my life” philosophy.
And then, the pandemic arrived in 2020.
My Country has been one of the first hitten by the virus, and having one of the oldest populations in the world, we had a very hard lockdown for many weeks. We could get out of our house only for food shopping, only one person per family, only once per day. I needed something to concentrate on, otherwise, I would have been constantly under panic attacks.
I contacted a university well known for its online courses. I know it’s not Harvard and it isn’t super high-profile, but I asked them if they could enroll an almost-fifty newbie. Luckily, they could.
Once I began my university studies, I realized the vast difference between merely reading and truly studying, and between being informed and deeply understanding a subject.
When you read, you have a certain attention span, but when you study something new, your attention is much deeper. When you are studying for an exam, you also have to connect the information one to another, then you have to memorize it.
Besides, when you are studying, it’s not you who decides what deserves your attention. You have a professor who asks you a whole subject, and sometimes, they spend a lot of time and ask all your attention on something you might have considered less important. When you are looking for information, indeed, you sift through the data that you think might be useful for your work and your life. But when you study for an exam, you must learn the whole matter, even if some parts might seem boring or very difficult.
For example, studying Statistics was a revelation. Math and I had never been friends: when I was a child at primary school my teacher usually told me “Dear, I see you don’t like math, and maybe it doesn’t like you back”. But after studying Statistics, I understand much more about the information I read in newspapers, and it has become natural to ask myself about the accuracy of some news.
Therefore, one of the most important teachings I got from my university course is that constantly looking for information and knowledge is useless if it only helps you consolidate the opinions and beliefs you already have.
That’s not only confirmation bias, sometimes, it’s simple laziness: why should you break your head on math and difficult concepts, if no one is testing you? When you read something that you can’t understand, and you have no teachers to explain, why should you lose your time and energy to crack the nut? You can just skip to the next page, and feel comfortable with yourself. But, you have exams to hold, and you have your professors who are asking exactly those theories and concepts you found so difficult, and you have to unlock them to reach your graduation goal.
Finally, I graduated when I was 52. Yes, I was older than my professors. Am I a better person than my under-graduated friends? Not at all. If you’ve ever felt as uncomfortable as I did before my graduation, believe me, you are no less than anyone else.
I have just understood that permanent learning is a lifelong path, which deserves to be pursued if you learn something new, or unexpected and which helps you to decode the present times.
We can keep on spending our precious time, and hardly-earned money, to take courses. I still do it, as it’s nice to try something new. But it’s better if it widens your vision. And it’s even better if you don’t need a pandemic to enjoy your learning journey.