Laptop, desk, and coffee mugWhen I was working on my first master’s degree, one professor crushed my hopes of knowing everything there was to know (ever) when he said that knowledge doubled approximately every seven years. I realized, with despair, that by the time I finished that degree there would be twice as much to know as there was when I started college. It was nearly enough to cause this knowledge-hungry girl to hang up her scholarly cap and tassel for good.

Of course, that pace was about to be obliterated. Frustratingly, knowledge doubling soon matched pace with computer hardware, reaching the year-and-a-half mark. Oh, but wait. Viewed exponentially, some say doubling now happens within hours… as in, less than half a day!

So, if you, like me, find that incredibly overwhelming, it is time to take a step back, forget about the unattainable, and focus on this simple principle:

Being teachable is immeasurably more valuable than knowing everything.

And that’s especially true when you couldn’t possibly have all the answers anyway. So rather than trying to keep up with the hypersonic pace of the Information Age, just keep learning… setting realistic goals and keeping the mind open to unforeseen wonders. Here are just a few ways to do that.

1. Decide what you want to master

As you can imagine, as someone who was depressed by the thought of there being more out there to know than I could possibly absorb, narrowing down my interests is challenging. But allowing mental paralysis to take over does not a lifelong learner make. You have to decide what you want to master. You can certainly choose to master more than one thing, but it’s best to pursue mastery one thing at a time.

2. Decide what you want to know, not master

While you’re working toward mastery (or after), no one said you can’t still pick up some enriching knowledge of other topics… the “Jack of all trades, master of none” topics. These are the skills that supplement your experience, but you likely won’t go apply for a job based on them (yet). On the other hand, they may spark interest strong enough to bump them up to the “mastery” list… for further study. Many years ago I decided to learn how to operate a sound console, thinking that every worship leader should know how to run sound because you never know what resources will be available, especially in smaller churches. Of course, the exposure fueled my inner tech nerd, and now I have two certificates from Berklee Music and several years of experience in live sound and home studio production.

3. Google!

Or Bing, or Yahoo!, or what have you. Online tutorials exist for myriad skills and hobbies, even obscure ones like how to do office yoga, or draw a puppy, or make Twinkies (ripped from the headlines on the homepage of collaborative tutorial emporium, wikiHow.com). Start with a search engine query on your favorite topic, then check out video sites like YouTube or VimeoPinterest is another fabulous repository of predominantly domestic tips (such as for household decor, elementary education, fashion, cooking, and cleaning). Make the World Wide Web your university and enjoy the freely (or cheaply) shared knowledge of others who’ve mastered your chosen craft. It still amazes me, after all these years and gathered online content, just how much is out there!

4. Take a class

Despite my glowing review of readily available online content, sometimes you need to take the next step and enroll in a structured class. These days, this can be at a local college or university, or it too can be online. It can be paid and for credit, or it can even be free, for personal enrichment only. But the value of structure can be priceless for (a) those who learn best in such an environment, and (b) assembling into one cohesive structure the varied bits of knowledge gathered from far and wide. And never fear: with such great value placed these days on personal enrichment, no one should feel “too old” to “go back to school.” Particularly with online classes, even at universities, it’s likely that classmates’ ages will range from recent high school graduate all the way to veteran grandparent. This is one appropriate time to consider caving in to “everybody’s doing it” and feel good about it.

Examples (just to get you started):

For technology learning, like computer coding and/or Web design, check out sites like Code.orgCodecademyTreehouseSmashing MagazineA List ApartLynda.com, or search for the technology you are interested in studying.

For more traditional academic disciplines, search for universities with online degree programs, or check out Apple’s iTunes U.

5. Teach someone else

It’s often said, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” Of course, that’s a mean-spirited jab at teachers, but if a kernel of truth (or rather an application) can be extracted, it’s this: teaching is collaborative learning that can lead to mastery. If you have at least some knowledge and skill in an area (and the ability to go about increasing it), then bringing along a pupil (or group of them) can help you master it through the art of translating knowledge to someone else’s experience. Save this for the non-mission-critical skills and crafts, though. I certainly don’t really want a medical school washout to attempt starting a surgical practice by taking on apprentices. I want to see a legitimate diploma on the office wall, if you know what I mean.

6. Rinse, repeat

Once you’ve mastered a skill or topic in the state that was current when you started, take a step back, and maybe go all the way back to the beginning. Part of lifelong learning is the process of “relearning”: new technologies and new ways of doing things will always pop up. Even for skills and subjects that change little over time, a return to an earlier phase of study can help you to understand the basics in a way you couldn’t when first learning. When I peruse a beginning guitar lesson or CSS tutorial, I will often find a previously challenging concept not only easier, but ridiculously easier as I look at it through a more advanced perspective than I did years ago. It’s empowering, and sometimes connects dots I didn’t even realize were disjointed. Even a “master” is never beyond reviewing the elementary.

BONUS: Rest

Ok, so I said this was “6 ways,” but here’s a bonus 7th. It’s a biblical principle equally applicable to lifelong learning: after achieving mastery, take a break. Let it percolate. Allow it to simmer, and the flavors to come together. Rote learning can be accomplished in an hour; mastery takes much more time, and sometimes it is while taking a break that unexpected growth can happen. It’s like a workout: muscle strengthening happens in the healing of microscopic tears to muscle fibers that occur during the workout. Read that again: the strength comes in the healing—the rest period afterward. And it’s not just with physical development; I’ve played guitar for almost 17 years, and some of the most fascinating developments in my playing came after a brief break. I’d return to the instrument and “suddenly” have skill I hadn’t seen before. The restorative rest empowered growth in combination with preparation and practice. Whether you choose the word sabbath (or sabbatical) or not, take a break… and then get back to it.

Photo credit: DeaPeaJay via photopin cc

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