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Love of Learning: Guide or Obstacle?

love of learning: painting of greek letters

Love of learning is the guide of life. –Phi Beta Kappa motto

I love to learn. I love to take in information. On the StrengthsFinder inventory, two of my top five talents are Learner and Input. I easily could have been a professional student.

For some of us, learning is fun.

But, as hard as it is to admit, I will also say: Love of learning can be an obstacle in life.

Learning for the sake of learning

Learning is useful, right? It’s “useful” when we go to class. It’s “useful” when we read a how-to book.

The problem is, if you are constantly learning, when do you apply what you’ve learned?

In a prior corporate life, one of my managers finally told me that my development plan could no longer be full of classes; that year it had to be full of goals that showed I was actually applying what I’d learned.

Learning is necessary. Sometimes you go through long periods where you must ingest Thanksgiving-size meals of information. Other times you need to stop, absorb what you’ve learned, and start using the new knowledge so it becomes part of your repertoire.

In one of my favorite books* of all time, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, 82-year-old Mrs. Frankweiler states, “I’m not in the mood to learn anything new.”

Twelve-year-old Claudia exclaims, “But, Mrs. Frankweiler, you should want to learn one new thing every day….”

“No,” Mrs. Frankweiler answers, “I don’t agree with that. I think you should learn, of course, and some days you must learn a great deal. But you should also have days when you allow what is already in you to swell up inside of you until it touches everything. And you can feel it inside of you. If you never take time out to let that happen, then you accumulate facts, and they begin to rattle around inside of you. You can make noise with them, but never really feel anything with them. It’s hollow.”

Learning as a distraction

Because learning is “useful” we also can be tempted to keep learning in order to avoid doing something else—sometimes the thing we need to do.

Any of these situations sound familiar?

  • The colleague who reads every business book, yet neglects business development.
  • The colleague who keeps taking the same class over and over until he’s told, “No more! You are now qualified to TEACH the class!”
  • The excessively experienced colleague who asks, “Should I take this class?” on the thing at which she is excessively experienced.

“But, but, but,” you may argue, “if I [read a book/watch a webinar/go to a workshop], I always get at least one nugget!”

Well, yes, but what is the opportunity cost of that nugget? What are the things you are not doing that you could be? Is sixteen hours in a two-day seminar worth that one nugget? Is four hours reading a book worth that one nugget? Are you “learning” or procrastinating?

Is love of learning becoming an obstacle?

Love of learning—for the sake of learning or as a distraction—can become an obstacle to keep you from achieving your greater purpose.

When you have a learning opportunity, ask yourself:

  • What is your goal for this learning opportunity?
  • Is it on a new topic or skill? Is the topic or skill critical at this point?
  • Have you already studied this topic/skill? If so, how have you applied it? Do you need more learning, or more practice?
  • Do you anticipate gaining something significant? Or will you maybe possibly perhaps get a tidbit of something useful?
  • Is [taking this class/attending this webinar/reading this book] the best and highest use of your time? What are you giving up in order to do it?

Of course you need to learn!

I’m not saying don’t learn. (Don’t be silly—I would never say that!) Love of learning certainly is a guide in my life. And by all means, we should learn for fun, not just utility.

But be clear on your endgame: Are you taking a creative writing class for fun? Are you taking a nonfiction class so you understand how to write your business book? Or are you “learning” about writing when you really just need to get your butt in the chair and write?


*Visit my Speaking page for my demo video in which I also refer to The Mixed-Up Files!

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