In May 2013, Wally Taibleson walked across the graduation stage at California State University San Marcos  earning a Master of Arts in Education. Many other people received their degrees that day, but what makes Wally different, was its was his fourth degree. At 90 years old, he was also the oldest graduate in the 23-campus California State University system’s history.

Taibleson didn’t start attending college until 1993 when he was 60 years old. In 2002, he earned his first bachelor’s degree in history, but didn’t stop there. Besides the latest master’s degree in education, Taibleson earned other degrees including a Master’s in literature, writing studies and one in history.

Wally is a great example of one who practices lifelong learning, but it didn’t just start in 1993 when he went to college. It started much earlier.

He graduated high school in 1939, and since the Great Depression was nearing its end, Taibleson decided to skip college and go straight to work. He started with menial jobs, before settling in accounting at age 18. He took accounting classes at a business school in Chicago and earned his CPA certificate. At an early age, he saw the need for lifelong learning.

But again, earning his CPA certificate was not where he stopped.  He eventually went on to serve as chief financial officer and vice chairman of the board of National Can Corp. in Chicago before retiring in 1984.

When asked why he earned another degree, Taibleson said, “Anytime you can devote to improving your mind and increasing your learning is valuable for you as well as those you associate with.”

As a busy professional it is often easy to feel overwhelmed at the rate of change in the world. Organizations are requiring higher levels of productivity, which often translates into all of us working more hours, with less support for our professional development.

An article from Training Industry shows, “74% of employees don’t feel as though they are achieving their full potential due to lack of development opportunities (Middlesex University for Work Based Learning”, and “62% of human resources managers do not believe they are meeting each individual’s learning needs (2015 Association of Talent Development study).”

Life-long learning is the ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated pursuit of knowledge for either personal or professional reasons. With the increase in knowledge being generated, it is necessary for us to obtain the necessary knowledge, skills, and competencies to help us succeed in the future.

To succeed in the future, we must change our mindset from “occasional learners” to “lifelong learners.”

Earl Nightingale researched and taught about success for decades. He used to say that if you spend 30 minutes – every day – learning about one specific subject, you’ll become a legitimate expert in six months. 30 minutes every day for six months is about 5,400 minutes or 90 hours over the course of 6 months. Others claim it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert, which is 5 working years.

If we expect to be experts, it is easy to see how obtaining 20-40 hours of continuing professional education each year in our given field is now insufficient. We need to commit to lifelong learning and spend time each day, and each week learning and improving ourselves. This can be done through reading books, online research, podcasts, self-study training, formal training courses, etc…

The mediums used to learn are varied, but what’s vital is we commit to invest the time and resources necessary to become and maintain expert status. This is the information age, and those not willing to invest in obtaining information, knowledge, and certifications will be left behind.

Technology now provides us with many more options for education both in, and out of the workplace.

Commit to becoming a lifelong learner, and achieve expert status in your life and career, by completing the following steps:

  1. Spend a couple of minutes writing out a list of topics you would like to master
  2. Decide which of the topics will have the greatest impact on helping you achieve your personal and professional goals
  3. Start looking for training opportunities to help you develop expert-level status on the topic (e.g. books, podcasts, training courses, etc…)
  4. Commit to investing $20, $40, $60, $100, or more, each month in these opportunities.
  5. Make it a habit each day, each week, each month to “take” time for your learning

If you are looking for training opportunities, make sure to check out cRisk Academy, and my podcasts: Jamming with Jason and the Fire & Earth Podcast.


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