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Why Lifelong Learning Is The Key To Entrepreneurial Success


By Evan Nierman, founder & CEO of Red Banyan, an international crisis communications firm, and author of Amazon bestseller Crisis Averted.

In the movie Good Will Hunting, actor Matt Damon plays a self-taught genius working as a janitor at MIT who famously slams a smarmy Ivy Leaguer who tries to embarrass Damon’s blue-collar buddy in a college bar.

Damon shuts down the arrogant grad student in an epic bar scene with these memorable words:

“You dropped $150 grand on a f—ng [sic] education you could have gotten for a $1.50 in late charges at the public library,” Damon tells the obnoxious student amid a crowd of his privileged classmates.

It’s a movie I’ve seen many times, and one that I appreciate more every time I see it because the wisdom it proffers is profound: Open your eyes because what you need to get ahead may be at your fingertips. Formal education is important, but there is plenty of knowledge you can gain outside the classroom.

Damon’s message was effective because it smacked of common sense. It’s also a message that could save entrepreneurs time and money as they work to grow their businesses and move them forward. Pay attention to the world around you. Talk to people with more experience than you. Listen to their advice. Learn from their mistakes. And do some homework on your own.

Learning Opportunities Are Everywhere

People in leadership positions typically work hard jockeying for the next promotion, fighting for the next raise or striving toward the next chapter. They spend tremendous sums of money looking for the right answers.

They attend fancy seminars, pursue master’s degrees or enroll in pricey programs that are now offered at many of the top business schools in the country. These business leaders receive instruction on a small scale for a large premium so they can lay claim to “being educated” at a prestigious college or university. But is it worth the cost?

What they often overlook are the free resources that are right in front of them, like books, magazines, blogs and podcasts. Many are aimed directly at entrepreneurs or those who are planning to make the leap.

Lifelong learning is truly the key to success and opportunities for improvement are everywhere. The biggest investment is usually time, not money.

That’s the sentiment that Damon’s character Will Hunting expresses in the movie: You can spend six figures getting an executive education degree that requires you to spend time away from your family or your business for multiple years. You can study nights and weekends, or you can start paying attention to all of the free or nearly free resources that are in plain sight.

Leverage Free Resources To Advance Learning

Subscribe to a magazine, listen to a podcast or talk to a fellow entrepreneur. Then think about how the information you absorb applies to your life and your company and how this information is available to everyone, as opposed to information obtained at big-name schools in far-flung locations.

Established entrepreneurs are often willing to share their secrets to success with others because someone once did the same for them. Read what they read. Ask for help. Listen to advice. Talk to successful people you know.

Research a topic and you may be in for a surprise: Other people have asked the same questions you’re asking and sought out the same information you’re seeking. You will quickly discover that you are not alone, nor are you unique. You will learn that other entrepreneurs have faced the same challenges and roadblocks as you and come out on the other side.

7 Lifelong Learning Tips:

Read every day

Seek opportunities for growth

Nurture diverse interests

Embrace change

Set specific goals

Have a positive attitude

Leave your comfort zone

Adapting To Change Translates Into Growth

Studies document the need for lifelong learning. The Pew Research Center found that 87% of adults in the workforce acknowledge that “it will be essential for them to get training and develop new job skills throughout their work life in order to keep up with changes in the workplace.” And because people are living longer and working longer, the need to constantly learn new skills and grow will become the new normal, Pew predicts.

The most valuable workers now and in the future will be those who can adapt to the changing needs of the workplace, Pew notes.

In fact, one Pew research study found that 73% of adults consider themselves lifelong learners. The study found that 74% of adults consider themselves personal learners, having read a book or taken a class to learn something new about a personal interest. Another 36% of adults consider themselves professional learners, having taken a course or some kind of additional training to further their career.

The benefits of lifelong learning are vast, and successful entrepreneurs should embrace the advice of Pew. Workers who continue to learn and adapt can increase their employability and move forward with a sharper focus.

Lifelong learning can take place at your own pace and on your own terms. What’s important is that you continue moving forward. And if you explore resources that are available at zero to little cost, the proverbial $150,000 education can be yours for a pittance, or nothing at all.

Take Will Hunting’s advice and seize the opportunities to learn that fall within your grasp. The biggest challenge may be to open your eyes.

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