As long as you live, keep learning how to live. – Seneca
What does that mean?
This is a quote which in turn quotes an even older proverb, author unknown. The longer version of the quote is as follows:
You should keep learning as long as you are ignorant — even to the end of your life, if there is anything in the proverb. And the proverb suits the present case as well as any: “As long as you live, keep learning how to live.”
The way the quote is presented says that this wisdom was old when Seneca wrote of it. And it had withstood the test of time at that point, and is still clearly true today.
Do you know any old people who don’t know how to set the timer on their microwave or VCR? Do they know how to use the GPS in their car? Life continues to change, and we must continue to adapt. Otherwise we will be left behind.
Why is continually learning important?
Later in the letter, he even says “even an old man should keep learning.” That was the inspiration for the comments in the prior section about keeping up with technology. Consider how life changed for farmers as technology made the plow-horse obsolete. Keep learning, right?
If we don’t continue to learn, what will become of us? Our skills will maintain, but lose their edge compared to the new ways, right? Ask the farmer with the horse team how well things are going compared to his neighbor with the combine. That’s probably not a conversation either of you will enjoy, right?
While we master the basics fairly early on, there are constantly ways to improve. Yes, you can talk, but how is your vocabulary? Reading, crossword puzzles and many other ways exist to improve something as basic as your speech. Note that improving communication is a much broader topic, right?
No matter how much we know, there is still room to learn more. Even Stephen Hawking (many honorifics) continues to learn more about the universe, even though he is considered by many to be the most knowledgeable person in his field. That is how much he values continual learning. How about you?
Where can I apply this in my life?
As a computer guy, both the hardware and software languages are constantly changing. I must either continue to learn, or become obsolete. In your professional life, you probably have similar demands. New technology, new techniques, and new products, all of which require you to learn.
This quote applies to all areas of our lives, but most of us do not have the time necessary to learn how to improve every aspect of our lives at the same time. So we pick what we like, and what will help us, and focus on them. We just need to be careful not to ignore critical aspects of our lives.
For me, the trick is to keep track of where I am having trouble or falling behind. When I was having trouble communicating with my teenage son, I worked on learning more about communication, and tried things until I got the results which I considered acceptable. I’m not sure if I got better, or he got tired of my experimentation. 8)
This might also apply to physical therapy after an injury. Some people have a lot of learning to do after an knee or hip replacement, right? And the people who have weight loss surgery have to learn how and what to eat, all over again, if they are to lose weight and keep it off.
I mentioned how our cars were becoming more and more complex, with GPS and radios which have manuals which are nearly as thick as textbooks. Yes, the car will still drive without learning how to use any of that, but if you paid for it, and it could help, I believe it would be prudent to learn.
Where in your life do you feel you are falling behind, or are having difficulty? Grab some paper and make a list. Try to cover each of the different roles you have in your life, from family to work to social, and everything in-between. You may not have issues in all, but it would be prudent to examine them all.
Pick one to start on, and take a moment or two to brainstorm up some ideas regarding how you might learn more. Possible ideas include finding a mentor, taking a class, reading a book, searching the internet, or just playing with it to see what happens. What did you come up with?
Now all you have to do is pick one of the ways and start doing something. It might be easiest to start with a web search, since you’re probably on the web right now, right? What terms might get you started? Keep in mind what, specifically, you are looking for.
Learning is important, and it start with the realization that you have a need. Then you have to identify a possible remedy. Finally, you have to take action. Don’t forget that last step.