Taking random roads with no planned destination can lead to serendipitous discoveries and exciting adventures. It could also leave you out of gas in the middle of nowhere.
It can be fun to be spontaneous, to just sit back and see where life will take you. Even so, there’s plenty of value in diligent planning for an extended trip. It can be helpful to identify places you want to see, think about necessary supplies, do a few searches on Airbnb to check availability, estimate costs, and have an emergency plan, just in case.
Like any long and multi-faceted excursion, thoughtful planning is a key component of almost any successful life-learning. Some spontaneity in your learning is valuable, but to get the most out of your journey, it helps to do some planning, such as identifying your goals, understanding different ways to achieve them, listing the skills you will need, calculating how much it will cost, and planning for anticipated setbacks or sidetracks. It’s also good to know about how long the various legs of your trip will take.
Here are some suggestions for getting the most out of your life-learning journey.
Remember, it’s your life-learning journey. Your dreams and aspirations are the foundation of this trip. They should frame your decisions about what you study, the experiences you want to engage in, and the destinations where your activities will lead. Own the process. It’s okay to get feedback on your journey, but don’t let someone else’s goals for you dictate your path.
It’s almost impossible to arrive someplace specific without identifying clearly where that someplace is. After spending time reflecting on your dreams and aspirations, you’re ready to start defining your journey’s destination(s), as well as the goals you want to meet along the way.
In this phase of your planning, take the time to describe each destination in detail by listing goals for your life-learning journey. Try to make these goals as specific and measurable as possible so you can determine whether you have reached them. Also, be sure that your goals are achievable. If they are too difficult, you are likely to become discouraged and not commit to your goal. It may be necessary to break a difficult, long-term goal into smaller, more achievable, short-term goals. Are your goals realistic or are they somewhat of a fantasy? If there are obstacles that might prevent you from attaining your goal, be realistic about them. Finally, identify timelines for your goals. This gives you an added push to meet goals in a timely manner.
At one time or another, most of us have stood in front of a big map trying to figure out where we are in relation to where we want to go. Most of these maps are marked with a big “X” and the words “You are here!” The starting point is marked clearly for one simple reason: it’s impossible to get where we want to go if we don’t know where we are.
It’s the same when navigating your life-learning journey. Knowing where you are starting from gives you a location from which you can plan the best routes to arrive at your planned destination. It also helps you measure the distance you have traveled and how much farther you have before you reach your next goal.
Knowing your starting point for your life-learning journey includes an honest assessment of your current knowledge, skills, and experiences. What do you already know? What can you already do? Where are the gaps in your knowledge?
Even if you’ve never thought about your life-learning journey, you’re already headed in some direction. You have new experiences every day. You’re constantly learning new things, either formally or informally. And all of this adds up to learning movement in some general direction, whether it’s intentional or not.
As you plan the first steps in your deliberate learning journey, it’s important to know what kind of adjustments you need to make to get on the right path. Your plan may have you taking college courses in the next six months as your next destination. Are you already moving in that direction by reading more and challenging yourself with more intellectually challenging material? Or are you drifting off in another direction by scrolling aimlessly through your app of choice and being passive in your media inputs?
The life-learning journey is a long one. You’ll be on it your entire life. And since the journey is so long, it can be hard to keep your destination in focus. It’s relatively easy to keep up with our learning efforts for the next six months, but a 30-year plan can seem both too distant and entirely irrelevant.
Thinking too far out can sometimes be problematic. In a world where high school freshmen are likely to get jobs out of college that don’t yet exist, having too focused an end goal can also limit you. This is why it’s important to establish mini-destinations and set short-term goals. You should set specific and measurable goals for each destination along the way to your final planned stopping point, which might be just a vague spot in the distance, gaining clarity with each goal accomplished. It’s also helpful to write down, with as much detail as possible, what actions you need to take to reach that next goal.
Not surprisingly, not every journey goes as planned. There are unexpected opportunities, personal interruptions, and other “life got in the way” interludes. You should expect these and realize, from the outset, that your journey will require you to make unplanned stops. For this reason, it’s a good idea to know where you can exit conveniently with as little lost effort or momentum as possible. Finding and planning proactively to use timely exit ramps will keep you moving forward efficiently on your journey and excited about the progress you have made.
The average number of jobs a person will have in their lifetime is 12. A dozen different titles. A dozen different job descriptions. That doesn’t include the hobbies and interests you might pick up along the way. Your life-learning journey might not be a straight line, and will likely wind and merge throughout the years. But staying on that journey and continuing to expand your knowledge will help to prepare you for whatever your future holds.