Monday, December 5, 2011

The Four Downsides of Being a Lifelong Learner

Anyone who knows me well will be stunned to read the title of this post.

How can I say there are negative aspects to ongoing self-development? I’ve always invested heavily in my own personal and professional growth – both financially and experientially. And my software company has been publishing assessment and development tools for over 17 years.

But as one for whom learning is a passion, I’ve discovered there are four downsides.

#1 – Accumulating a lot of knowledge without applying it in the real world

I admit that I rarely read novels. I prefer business books on topics like marketing, sales, leadership and personal development. That’s because I absolutely love my business, and I’m always interested in learning how to improve systems, relationships and of course, our bottom line. But sometimes I start on the next book before I’ve taken time to analyze and use the insights gleaned from the one I just read.

Lesson: For every book or program you go through, list the ideas that make sense for your situation. Then commit to implementing the one strategy that will make the biggest difference in your business or life, and hold yourself accountable for doing it.

#2 – Getting overwhelmed with too much information

As I read books and newsletters, watch DVDs, and listen to CDs, I can get paralyzed. There are so many directions to go. Is it possible to organize the mass of ideas into a cohesive action plan?  And how do I deal with conflicting opinions and determine whose approach will get the best results?

Lesson: It’s about quality, not quantity. Determine the one subject, program or book to focus on, and dedicate time to it. Then use your gut as well as your rational mind to evaluate the concepts presented. Which ones sound and feel right for your business? Just one book with one idea can transform the way you do things and the outcomes you achieve. Look for the nuggets.

#3 – Spending money on the next hot idea before mastering the ones already purchased 

Falling into this trap contributes to the situation described in #2. Some people call this tendency the “bright shiny object” syndrome. I’ll hear about a great solution to a business challenge, and I sometimes want to dive into that when I haven’t finished going through the materials I’ve already invested in.

Lesson: Use self-restraint and self-discipline. Say “no” to any attractive offers that come along until you’ve fully digested the one you’re consuming now. Unsubscribe from mailing lists that continually blast you with the next great offer promising to double or triple your results. Find someone who will require you to justify your reason for wanting to make a particular purchase.

#4 – Experiencing the uneasy feeling that you’re still not ready or good enough

When I’m studying the work of people who’ve specialized in a particular subject for many years, I sometimes feel inadequate. I’ve postponed taking action because of thoughts like, “If I just get a little more information about this, then I’ll be able to do that.” The truth is, there’s no end to the comparisons that could be made where I would fall short.

Lesson: No matter what field you’re in, there’s always room to grow and learn. You’ll never reach the end of what you can become, but don’t let that stop you from using the knowledge, skills and talents you already possess. Give yourself full credit for what you already have, and recognize that when you try things, they don’t have to be perfect.

The Bottom Line

Despite the drawbacks I’ve described here, I intend to continue my pursuit of becoming a better version of myself. The process of thinking about and articulating these four downsides has made me more keenly aware of their potential to harm instead of help me in my journey. As a result, I’ll keep my eyes wide open and be more careful to avoid these traps going forward.

Because in the end, it’s not about what you know. It’s about what you do with what you know.


  1. Thanks for the very interesting (and Oh so true) post!
    What motivates me is seeing the result of day by day self-improvement.
    I'm writing a blog on self-discipline, which is key when it comes to increasing your productivity.

    Maybe you will like to read some about it on my blog?

    Thanks and keep it up =)

  2. The 4th one is definitely true to me. I often dont take the next step because I do not feel ready enough to take the next step, especially when I NEED to take a step (i.e. reaching out for new business...the worst thing to not be ready for!). I love what I do enough to do it free and therein lies the problem. It is great to know that i am not the only one that goes through this and potentially has gone over it themselves!

  3. Thank you so much for this post Meredith. It's reassuring that you talk about managing the dangers in the quest of pursuing new knowledge and understanding. This has been a recurring problem for me, and I take your blog as a lesson that, whilst I wish to develop further, I owe it to myself and others to respect and share my skills as they are today.

  4. Catherine, I appreciate your feedback. The insight in your last statement is true of many people, so you're not alone. Just recognizing this will give you the confidence to get out there in a BIG way. Everyone is a learner throughout life, and many are not as far along as you are, so you're a teacher to them.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.