What is it the Bible says about being like little children?* You may no longer be in school but here’s why Cathy Madavan thinks we should all consider trying something new
They say you are never too old to learn. Well, I thought I’d put that theory to the test, by signing up for the master’s degree that I have wanted to study for years. With my usual work cancelled overnight in the pandemic, I figured it was a good time. Truthfully, it’s hard work and I’ve had to overcome some fears about whether I was up to it (not to mention mastering referencing systems – yikes!), but overall, I love it, and I feel like I’ve discovered a part of me that was waiting to be found. But learning is not all about education or academia; it is the desire in us to keep growing in every season. Here are five learning prompts I have found helpful to keep in mind.
1. Be a life-long learner
We are constantly learning new skills, new ways of living and new ways of relating with new technology. Likewise, we are always navigating new opportunities and new relationships. Life doesn’t stay still, even if we sometimes wish it would, and therefore we keep learning. So, we can all do it. Don’t count yourself out but learn to prioritise learning instead. Life is always busy, and age is just a number, so embrace the opportunities to learn.
2. Develop curiosity
My children insist I am extremely nosey, but I like to call it curiosity. Funnily enough, I never find myself wanting to know more about spreadsheets – but you might! We are all very different. Do you keep saying you’d love to learn Spanish or to design a website? Are you always taking photos or wishing you could dance? Have you wondered about fostering or serving somewhere? We are enriched when we lean into what God has laid on our heart. My theological studies have enabled me to dig deeper into questions I’ve been curious about for years. I’m just finally scratching that itch. What are you curious about? Take time to notice and then do something about it.
3. It’s OK to be a beginner
It’s often said that the more you learn, the more you realise you have to learn. Once you start anything, you realise you are a total novice and it’s easy to feel intimidated. For example, you might fancy learning more about chocolate (and why not?). You start by taste-testing, then learn more about the process, but then discover all the varieties of cacao bean found in western Africa and then there’s the ethics of production. It’s complex! You might be tempted to simply sink back into the sofa with your favourite chocolate bar and give in. Sure, there are experts in every field who have dedicated thousands of hours to their endeavour. Don’t let that stop you. We all have to start somewhere.
4. Think of learning as play
Have you ever visited a Reception Year class in a school? It’s brilliant. The teachers skilfully help children to learn while they play. You can’t help but get involved as it’s such fun. What a shame that years later, with exam pressure, comparison, deadlines and competitiveness, our learning becomes so pressurised. Learning isn’t always about being the best (hello my perfectionist friends; we have to be reminded of this!). It’s not about being the smartest, fittest, most accomplished or fastest learner in history. Remove the pressure. You won’t stick with it for long if you make it a chore. Make your learning something you look forward to: smile about it, celebrate milestones and tell others how much you’re enjoying it. Stretching yourself is fun; stressing yourself isn’t.
5. You learn by doing
Finally, there’s the theory but then there’s the practice. This is the reality check, whether it is playing piano, cooking, running, learning a language, coding or whatever. People often tell me they would like to be a writer. Fair enough. So I ask: “What have you written?” The answer is often: “Nothing yet.” My response: “OK, well get writing then!” Likewise, I’m not going to create pottery or bake cakes by watching TV programmes about it – I am living proof of this. Try making a plan and start somewhere: download the app, sign up to the class or buy the book. And get excited! After all, as the saying goes: “If not now, when?”