Josh Irby

Live from Sarajevo

A life of learning (How growing is about never graduating)

[This is the seventh post in the series Plan2Change, about the possibility and process of personal growth. Check out parts 1 2345, and 6]

I remember graduation day—black robes, square hats, smiling faces. It was the end of my formal education, a unshackling of the bonds of the school system. As I crossed the stage to receive my diploma I knew I could keep on walking, never again open a book and no one would stop me. According to the law, I was free.

Instead I chose a life of learning.

For all the benefits of education in the western world (and there are many), one of the great tragedies is the “formalization of learning.” We equate education with classrooms, with pop-quizzes, with finals week, with the system. But it is so much more. We should never graduate from learning.

Will Folsom (Creative Commons)

Will Folsom (Creative Commons)

Each of the past five years I’ve had to do something I’ve never done before—learn a new language, write a book, lead a multi-ethnic team, for example. In each of these cases, I was in over my head. As soon as my eyes opened in the morning I felt overwhelmed. How was I ever going to speak Bosnian? How would I ever finish a book in time? Perhaps you are like me and constantly find yourself in overwhelming situations.

In these moments we have three choices: quit, fail, or learn.

Learning is the best option. And learning is the only way we will reach our growth goals and see significant change in life.

Over the past few weeks you have written a mission statement, chosen areas of growth, uncovered root problems, set clear goals, and asked for help from key people. This is significant. But perhaps you still feel unprepared for the task ahead. It’s time to go back to school.

I’m not suggesting you invite friends over to your house to sit in rows of uncomfortable chairs while someone lectures you to sleep. Not that kind of school. I am talking about the school you find all around you—in libraries, on mountain ranges, in foreign cities, and on your neighbor’s back porch.

Become a student of the world. Never stop learning. You won’t believe how quickly you grow.

Here are three things every student of the world needs to do:


Dr. Seuss put it best, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” If you are really to go places, you need to make reading a part of your life. Read for fun. Read to challenge your view of the world. Read to develop skills and strategies. Read to uncover mysteries. Whatever you do, read.

But perhaps, like me,  you find it harder and harder to set aside time for reading. Now that I have four children, there is a 30 second window between opening a book and a child flying into my lap.

My favorite new “work-around” for this problem is Last August I took advantage of their trial membership (first month free and two free audio books!) and was instantly hooked. Instead of listening to music while running, I was working through my long reading list. In the past 10 months I’ve listened to 14 books. That is over 100 hours of ideas, research, truth, and inspiration.

However you do it, find a way to read. Perhaps the answer to your problem is in a book just waiting for you to find it.

Develop Curiosity

What if you thought of life as a school where you get to pick the classes and write the syllabus? In a way, it is. Our obsession with University degrees and grade point averages has taken the fun out of learning. It has dulled our curiosity. If we are to become life-long learners and students of the world we need to sharpen our curious spirit.

Donald Miller, New York Times best-selling author, is a big advocate of auditing classes. Why shouldn’t he be? His highly successful book Blue Like Jazz was the result of a humanities class he audited at Reed College. Why not take a class just because you are curious?

While attending Georgia Teach and studying engineering, I realized my need for classes not involving math and science. I was really interested in philosophy and history. When I discovered tuition was the same whether I took 15 hours a quarter or 20, I started adding new subjects to my schedule. First quarter it was History of Traditional China and Japan, then an International Affairs class. Next I worked my way through all the Philosophy classes offered. I made better grades when I took more classes, if at least one class originated with my curiosity. The result was a much more well-rounded education.

What are you curious about? Explore the topic. Ask questions. Develop your curiosity and see where it leads you.

Get Resourceful

Everything we need to accomplish our goals and see change in our lives is within reach. We just need to reach in the right direction.

If you want to grow as a mother, there are countless “Mom-blogs” that can challenge and encourage you. My wife loves Kat Lee’s site Inspired to Action. She doesn’t have a lot of time to sit and read (note the number children above) so she listens to podcasts while washing the dishes and driving the kids to school. There have never been more resources to help Moms then there are today.

If you want to be a writer, help is only a click away. Almost two years ago I joined a writing course called Tribe Writers created by Jeff Goins. It was the key resource that helped me start this blog and grow in confidence as a writer. Not to mention the amazing community of over 1000 writers that came with it.

Whatever your goals, there are resources. Search them out. Ask a friend. Then make an investment in your future.

The Real Graduation Day

Although I have walked the stage and gotten a diploma a couple of times, my graduation day has not yet arrived. I agree with Albert Einstein, “Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.”  I don’t plan to graduate until I die.

Think about your goal.

What books can you read?
What questions should you pursue?
What resources are available?

Make a list. Class is in session.

Open Letter Cover 2

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"I love Josh's writing. Big things to come from him." —Jeff Goins

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