What is the first thing you think of when you hear the word learn? Is it a classroom with neat rows of desks? Is it childhood? Is it your past school experience? Textbooks, perhaps?

We often place learning into a very small box. We compartmentalize the act of learning. We may think:

  • It must fit within a narrow category such as math, science, or history.
  • It must happen in a classroom with a teacher.
  • It is an occupation for children and college students, before “real life” begins.
  • It has to have a specific purpose, such as job training or teaching our own children.

This month, I am going to challenge you to expand your idea of what it means to learn!

You may not think of yourself as a learner, but you are here. That means you are a learner!

A friend of mine once used the expression in media res when she was describing her life of learning, and that term resonated with me. From the classical Latin meaning “in the middle of things,” in media res is a narrative technique in which the author begins relating a story from the midpoint, rather than at the beginning.

Many of us think of learning as something that happened to us at the beginning of our lives (whether or not we feel we had a quality education), or as something to be saved for later, after our schedule lightens up or our career ends or our children leave the nest and we have stretches of hours, days, months to dispose of and fill with hobbies as we please.

But I am here to suggest that we embrace the term in media res. Now, in the middle of things, at this very moment in our story, is the best time for learning. If we intentionally cultivate habits of curiosity now, the years that stretch before us can only be richer and more inviting.

“Get over the idea that only children should spend their time in study. Be a student so long as you still have something to learn, and this will mean all your life.” ~Henry L. Doherty

Why learn?

Learning is an adventure. It is taking a step from the known into the unknown. It makes the world fresh and infuses it with delight. Learning adds depth and texture to life. It increases one’s interest in life itself. It guards against a pervasive boredom with our world and with our selves.

“When people are bored, it is primarily with themselves.” —Eric Hoffer

The most profound and yet astonishingly simple description of a life of learning that I have ever encountered was written by the American poet Mary Oliver:

“Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.”

That’s all there is to it.

We’ll be exploring each of these idea in more depth this month.

ACTIVITIES & QUESTIONS

  1. When you think of learning, what comes to mind? Do you view it as something that happens at certain times in certain places?
  2. Do you consider yourself a learner? Or is learning something you’ve compartmentalized for another time in your life (either the past or the future)?
  3. Make a bucket list of things you’d like to learn—things you want to know more about, skills you want to acquire, etc.

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