Unless you’ve missed the last couple of decades, you’ve noticed that the world around us is changing at a faster and faster pace. Over the last 600 or so years, humanity has witnessed an explosion in the creation and distribution of knowledge, thanks to such revolutionary inventions as the printing press, radio, film, and of course, the internet.
This is, undoubtedly, a great thing. Throughout history, our progress as a species has been correlated to how much knowledge the average person can create and access. With that said, this knowledge explosion does come at a price; it requires that we become avid, lifelong learners.
In this article, I’m going to explore some of the reasons why lifelong learning is so important.
As someone who teaches accelerated learning, I’ve often wondered just how valuable can learning be?
The answer, by any measure, is hard to quantify. How can you put a dollar value on reaching your full potential? While it might be hard to quantify, there are some key indicators we can look at to see just how valuable learning can be.
Many people who take my courses, for example, are passionate about learning a new language. But did you know that learning a language can put as much as US$128,000 in your pocket throughout your lifetime?
Not eager to learn German? No worries. There are plenty of professional certifications that can land you a cushy six-figure job after just a year or so of learning.
If that’s not a powerful endorsement for engaging in lifelong learning, then what is?
Years ago, I saw a movie called “Waking Life.” If you haven’t seen it, it’s basically a collection of philosophical concepts crammed together into one film that will melt your mind. One of the ideas I encountered through this movie was the idea of “the telescoping nature of evolution.” Here’s a clip:
Simply put, the idea is this – as we progress through the stages of our evolution, the distance between each phase becomes much smaller. Though the industrial revolution took centuries to arrive, the digital revolution took only decades. In essence, this means that the pace of change doesn’t stay static – it will actually increase as time progresses.
This is the idea behind the idea of “the singularity.” The idea that progress will happen so fast that it will become instantaneous.
This leads me to my third point.
Sixty years ago, you might have had a great job as a telephone operator, a factory worker, or even a cashier. I don’t need to tell you this, but those jobs are almost completely gone, thanks to technology and automation. The buck doesn’t stop there. As I’m sure you’re aware, this trend is only continuing – and very few of us are safe. Taxi and delivery drivers are an obvious next target; but, most people don’t realize that robots are learning much, much more. They already know how to write code, manage accounting systems, perform surgeries, and even create art and music!
All in all, The Economist reports, about 47% of jobs will vanish in the next 25 years.
Want to know which ones are going to be first? Take a look at this list of redundant jobs from The World Economic Forum’s 2020 Future Of Jobs Report.
What’s left for humans, you might ask? Well, to prepare yourself for future opportunities, you’ll need to acquire knowledge that machines and robots cannot. This includes interdisciplinary thinking, creative work, human-centered work like services, and more. Or, you could invest in your knowledge and skills surrounding technology. At least that way, you can become the person developing the machines.
Here is the list of emerging jobs from that same World Economic Forum report.
One way or another, though, outrunning this trend long-term means engaging in lifelong learning, both personal and professional.
Alright, fine, but that’s a long way away, right? I mean, it’s going to be at least a decade before robots replace neurosurgeons, right?
Maybe, but that doesn’t mean that humans can forgo lifelong learning in the meantime. In fact, back in 2018, the World Economic Forum estimated in their “Future of Jobs Report” that a staggering 54% of people will need significant reskilling by 2022.
Two years later, they described how companies all over the world plan to address the shifting skill needs in their businesses.
I don’t know about you, but when I look at these numbers, one thing jumps out at me – companies are going to try to retrain their existing employees. If that doesn’t work well enough, they’re going to replace them. And if that doesn’t work, they’ll automate their jobs, too.
If all that isn’t a blaring call to learn new skills and invest in professional development, then I don’t know what is!
As I mentioned above, most of us will have to invest heavily in continuous learning in order to have a fair shot at future opportunities, whether it be taking additional classes in our free time or even going back to school full-time. This applies even while still with our current employer. Not only that, but this also isn’t the only place that the bar has risen. Over the last 50 years, more and more people all over the world have escaped poverty. As they have, billions of energetic, motivated, and capable people have joined the workforce and are now getting a fair shot. As Thomas Friedman once said, “the world is flat.”
Sure, telephone support hasn’t been wholly automated yet. But that didn’t make those jobs any safer when they were all exported to India and The Philippines.
And don’t make the mistake of thinking that this is only “low-skilled” labor, either. All over the world, from Pakistan and Israel to Ukraine and China, countless new doctors, scientists, programmers, and engineers are graduating every year. They are finally joining the global economy and competing for the same jobs as everyone else. Plus, with more and more work going remote in the post-COVID era, that trend is only going to continue.
Once upon a time, a college degree was enough learning experience to make you stand out in the workforce. No more. Ask the endless lines of college-educated job-seekers. If you want to achieve your full potential as a professional in this economy, continued learning is the only path.
Depending on where you live, one of your grandparents may have spent 20, 30, or even 50 years at the same company. He or she might have even gotten a nice watch at retirement.
But those days are long since gone. Today, the average professional changes careers between 5 and 7 times in their lifetime. Not to mention how many times they may change jobs within a particular career. In Silicon Valley, where I grew up, it’s not uncommon to change jobs every 18 to 24 months if you get tempted away with a better offer!
Imagine how much learning it takes to start a new job. Then, consider for a moment how many new skills and knowledge it takes to start a whole new career. Now, figure that you’ll do that five to seven times in your life – and, in an increasingly competitive market too. Absurd, right?
Gone are the days when your professional development ended the moment you were trained for the job. If you want to achieve your full potential, it means engaging in lifelong learning.
Earlier, we talked about the explosion of knowledge and how humans are creating more and more of it every single year. Over time, this democratization of knowledge creation has played out in a growing number of fields.
At first, the explosion of information started in only the most technical of fields, such as science and medicine. Think about it, at the turn of the 19th century, a doctor was a doctor (and a veterinarian too, if the situation called for it!). But, as we learned more about our bodies, it became impossible for one person to gain all the skills and knowledge needed. Over time, medicine fragmented. Pediatrics, internal medicine, oncology, orthopedics, radiology, psychiatry, and so on. Today, it’s even more fragmented. If your child has a tummy ache that won’t go away, you’ll likely visit a pediatric gastroenterologist. Need a nose job? You’ll want to see a craniofacial plastic surgeon who specializes strictly in noses. Should you develop a rare form of bone cancer, you’ll have to find a good musculoskeletal oncologist.
This explosion of knowledge hasn’t stopped there. Actually, it has expanded outward. From the sciences and computer programming, to history and law, and even to “soft” skills like sales and marketing. Every industry is becoming more and more specialized. As marketing expert Russell Brunson likes to say, “the riches are in the niches.”
One of the benefits of lifelong learning is that you continue to acquire knowledge in niche areas. The more you develop expertise in rarified air, the more you command in a free market.
Though specialists command a premium, don’t let that fool you into thinking you should focus all your learning experience on one subject. In fact, the opposite is true.
As more and more work becomes automated, humans have an opportunity to shine in a way that no machine can. We can leverage interdisciplinary thinking. Steve Jobs once shared one of the secrets that made both Apple and Pixar incredibly successful companies. “Technology alone is not enough,” he explained. The best ideas come from the intersection of different disciplines.
Sure, invest in becoming the best you can be in your role or industry. Dive deep into those niches. That’s one of the main reasons why learning is so important. However, as you are investing in your continued education, don’t forget to “go wide” as well. Take on outside interests. Learn “enough to be dangerous” in fields that are entirely unrelated to yours. Develop a passion for engaging in lifelong learning, and follow it wherever it takes you.
If you do, you’ll find that you are uniquely positioned to achieve your full potential, no matter what future opportunities come your way.
In this article, we’ve explored a handful of the reasons why learning is so important – especially today. If you agree and want to learn how to learn faster, I encourage you to check out my blockbuster Udemy course, Become a SuperLearner.
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