American Association for Physician Leadership

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Lifelong Learning Is Good for Your Health and Career

John Coleman

January 10, 2018


Seminars, online courses, professional development programs, books, podcasts and other resources have never been more accessible for continuing education.

Seminars, online courses, professional development programs, books, podcasts and other resources have never been more accessible.

Doreetha Daniels received her associate degree in social sciences from College of the Canyons, in Santa Clarita, California, in 2015. But Daniels wasn’t a typical student: She was 99 years old.

doreetha daniels

Doreetha Daniels

Daniels wanted to get her degree simply to better herself. Her six years of school during that pursuit were a testament to her will, determination and commitment to learning.

Few of us will pursue college degrees as nonagenarians, or even as midcareer professionals. Some people never really liked school in the first place. And almost all of us have limits on our time and finances that make additional formal education impractical or impossible.

As we age, though, learning isn’t simply about earning degrees or attending storied institutions. Seminars, online courses, professional development programs, books, podcasts and other resources have never been more abundant or accessible, making it easier than ever to make a habit of lifelong learning.

So why don’t more of us seize these opportunities? The next time you’re tempted to put learning on the backburner, remember a few points:

Educational investments are an economic imperative: The links between formal education and lifetime earnings are well-studied and substantial. Trends bring constant shifts in the nature of work. And navigating an ever-changing landscape requires continual learning and personal growth.

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Learning is positive for health: Reading, even for short periods of time, can dramatically reduce your stress levels. Other research indicates that learning to play a musical instrument can offset cognitive decline, and learning difficult skills in older age is associated with improved memory. What’s more, while the causation is inconclusive, there’s a well-studied relationship between longevity and education.

Being open and curious has profound personal and professional benefits: While few studies validate this observation, I’ve noticed in my own interactions that those who dedicate themselves to learning and who exhibit curiosity are almost always happier and more socially and professionally engaging than those who don’t. Perhaps your experiences will differ, but if you’re like me, I suspect those you admire most − personally and professionally − seem most dedicated to learning and growth.

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Our capacity for learning is a cornerstone of human flourishing and motivation: We are uniquely endowed with the capacity for learning, creation and intellectual advancement. Even if education had no impact on health, prosperity or social standing, it would be worthwhile as an expression of what makes every person special and unique.

The reasons to continue learning are many, and the weight of the evidence would indicate that lifelong learning isn’t simply an economic imperative but a social, emotional and physical one as well. We live in an age of abundant opportunity for learning and development. Capturing that opportunity — maintaining our curiosity and intellectual humility − can be one of life’s most rewarding pursuits.

John Coleman is a co-author of "Passion & Purpose: Stories from the Best and Brightest Young Business Leaders.” This article was originally published by Harvard Business Review .

Copyright 2017 Harvard Business School Publishing Corp. Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate.

John Coleman

John Coleman is the author of the HBR Guide to Crafting Your Purpose.

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The American Association for Physician Leadership has helped physicians develop their leadership skills through education, career development, thought leadership and community building.

The American Association for Physician Leadership (AAPL) changed its name from the American College of Physician Executives (ACPE) in 2014. We may have changed our name, but we are the same organization that has been serving physician leaders since 1975.


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