What Happens When You Stop Learning?

(It's Worse Than You Think)

She didn’t fit the typical coffee shop crowd.

Usually, the place is filled with students with computers, business people with lattes and a few older folks scanning their iPads.

But not this woman.  She and her granddaughter sat across from each other a few feet down from me, and there was a small, open box between them.  Her silver hair was styled comfortably, making her look much younger than she actually was.  She also has a sense of fashion without being presumptuous.  She was stylin’.

When she spoke she was confident, but not in a pushy way.  “I can do this, you know.  That’s why I bought it.”

“Absolutely, Grandma.  You’ve never been afraid to try new stuff.”

“Maybe that’ll happen when I get old,” she said.

“So, how old are you now?”

“I’m only 94.  Now, show me what else this thing can do.”

The granddaughter, a woman in her early 40’s let her Grandma hold the watch herself and try things out while she talked her through the steps.

The box on the table had a familiar logo: Apple.

I was there to work on an article I’m writing and clean up some emails.  But this was too good to ignore.  A 94-year old woman just purchased an Apple watch and was committed to learning how to use it.

“Will it show my heart rate?”

“It sure will, Grandma. See?  It’s right here.”

“That’s important,” the woman said. “I’ll check it every morning.  If it shows I have a pulse, I’ll get up.”  They both laughed.

“Does it keep track of how many steps I take?”

“Yep. And it also shows exactly where you are, and I can see it on a map on my computer.”

“That’s good.  I’m supposed to walk 10,000 steps a day.  If I get lost, I’ll just keep walking until you come find me.”  They both laughed again.

This went on for another 30 minutes.  Grandma tried each instruction several times until she finally got it.  Granddaughter wasn’t irritated that it took multiple tries.  I felt like her patience was giving her grandma a gift of great respect.

Finally, it was time for them to go.  Grandma wrapped the watch around her wrist and snugged it up.

“Thanks, Honey,” she said to her granddaughter.  “Next time, can you show me how it connects with my iPhone?”

And they left. 

I watched them walk slowly away, and realized this wasn’t one of those older marathon runners that are in the peak of physical shape.  She was just an elderly woman who decided not to think elderly.

She had a young attitude because she decided to keep learning.

In the corporate work I’ve done over the years, I’ve met a lot of people who learned how to do their job really well – and then they simply stop learning.  The clock in, do their job routinely and clock out.

They feel stuck.  They feel like there’s nothing they can do about their circumstances, so they give up.  They feel like victims, so everything that happens reinforces that feeling.

If they believe that they’re a failure, they’ll see every mistake as evidence that it’s true.  When they do something well, they assume it was just a lucky break.

But they don’t have to do that.

Just because we believe something about ourselves doesn’t mean it’s true.

We can challenge those beliefs.

It’s not our IQ that holds us back; it’s our willingness to keep learning.

Albert Einstein said, “Once you stop learning, you start dying.”

Are you still learning?  Or do you find yourself pulling away from challenges?

This week, be aware of how you’re thinking about yourself.  Then, push the envelope just a little.  It doesn’t take massive change – just a little nudge.

If you always stay in your comfort zone, stick your toes just over the edge. For instance, I know how to write, but have always been overwhelmed by the process of “getting it out there.”  So I hired an expert who’s teaching me the ropes and managing the process.  She’s not demanding massive change all at once; she’s just making it “safe” to play in new territory. 

If you feel stagnant, pick one small thing you wish you knew how to do.  Google it, YouTube it or watch a video about it and then try it.  Pick something simple that you want to learn – how to make biscotti, write a blog, understand the stock market, forecast the weather, take great children’s photos, or play chess.

Get in the habit of learning little things all the time.

Maybe when you’re 94, you’re granddaughter will be teaching you the latest technology.

Or better yet – maybe you’ll be teaching her.

What’s one small step will you take to grow this week?  Share in the comments below.

Senior Consultant at FranklinCovey; Speaker, Author of 5 books - including "People Can't Drive You Crazy If You Don't Give Them the Keys," "I Wish He Had Come With Instructions," and "Dealing With the Elephant in the Room." (See Book page)