If money is your hope for independence you will never have it. The only real security that a man will have in this world is a reserve of knowledge, experience, and ability. –Henry Ford
Many people have a very narrow view of what education looks like and what role it can play in their lives. They believe that education is the simply the process of learning in a formal academic setting that begins when you enter kindergarten and ends when you graduate from college. Some people even refer to as graduating from college as “completing their education.” After they are done with their formal schooling, they never set out on an intentional process of learning something new again and don’t integrate ongoing learning into their life.
Not surprisingly, people that are financially successful have a much broader view of education. Dr. Thomas Stanley did a study of the habits and behaviors of self-made millionaires for his best-selling book, The Millionaire Next Door. He found that the average millionaire reads at least one non-fiction every month. Will reading a non-fiction book every month make you a millionaire? I doubt it, but Stanley’s research does illustrate the point that millionaires tend to be life-long learners.
Self-made millionaires recognize that there is a lot of knowledge about life and business that they do not know. They recognize that the world is constantly changing and there is always new information to learn which could have a tangible impact upon their lives and their businesses. They know that there are critical pieces of information about their business or careers that they don’t know that would be game-changing if they did know them. Unfortunately, people don’t know what they don’t know. So, they embark on a journey of life-long learning to become more knowledgeable and more well-rounded.
If you desire to achieve financial freedom, you are going to have to know more than what you know right now. You will need to learn about your career, about general business, about personal finance and investing, about negotiation and a wide variety of other topics. You won’t become an expert in these areas overnight, but by embarking on a life-long journey of education you will learn about these topics over time and will always know more than you did yesterday.
The remainder of this chapter focuses on the power of life-long learning. You will learn how the power of education and hard work can help you become a better version of yourself over time. You will learn practical steps to continue learning throughout your life. You will also learn how to practice discernment and find answers to tough questions so that you can become a better decision maker over time.
Fixed Identity Vs. Dynamic Identity
I worked at Burger King during my sophomore and junior years of high-school. In terms of a part-time high-school job, it could have been a lot worse. I worked with a lot of my friends and the managers were nice enough to work with. I stopped working at Burger King during my senior year of high-school when I started working at a local Amoco gas station. Five years later, I was working on my first master’s degree and happened to be in my hometown visiting my parents. I stopped at Burger King to grab some lunch and one of my old managers, Paul, was still working there in the exact same assistant manager job he had five years ago. He asked me what I was up to these days and I told him that I was working on a graduate degree and was teaching classes for Dakota State University as part of an assistantship. Paul was quite surprised how much my life had changed and was surprised that someone was letting me teach a college class less than six years after working a cash register for Burger King. He said something along the lines of, “Really? It wasn’t that long ago that you were working for us, was it?” We exchanged a few pleasantries and I went on my way.
My former manager Paul had a very fixed view of his identity. He had been a restaurant manager for years before I worked for him and would continue to be a restaurant manager for years after I stopped working for him. I’m pretty sure that he’s still a manager at another local restaurant in my hometown today. People like Paul that have a fixed identity believe they will always be who they are now. They either don’t believe they can change who they are through hard work and education or they’re unwilling to do the hard work necessary to better themselves. They are who they are now and nothing will change that.
Having a fixed personal identity is entirely fine if you are happy with your current job and have no aspirations to do anything more. If you have larger aspirations for life, you are going to need to adopt a more dynamic view of your identity. People that have a dynamic view of their identity recognize that they are where they are at today because of what they have done in the past and can be an entirely different person based on the hard work, learning and determination they do in the future. If you want to achieve massive personal financial and career success, you are going to have to create a vision of your desired future personal identity and then set out to become that person.
I have always had a dynamic understanding of my identity. Even when I was in high-school and working at Burger King, I recognized that I could and would go off to college, get a computer science degree and find a job somewhere in a larger city as a computer programmer. Just because I was a fast-food worker then, didn’t mean I had to be a fast-food worker forever. In high-school, my desired future identity was to be a computer programmer working at a large company. In order to do that, I would need to get a computer science degree and get some practical experience doing programming work. I set out to achieve that goal and became that desired future version of myself. If you aren’t satisfied where you’re at in life now and want to be more than you what you currently are, begin creating a future vision of what your life might look like if you had accomplished all of your near-term personal, relational, career and financial dreams. After you have developed a desired future vision of what your life looks like, develop a plan and set out to become that person.
How to Become a Life-Long Learner
The key to becoming a life-time learner is to develop habits that will cause you to learn automatically over time. Learning should become a natural part of your daily hygiene rhythm, just as you brush your teeth and take a shower. Set aside 20 or 30 minutes each day to learn something new and do it at the same time each day so that it becomes a part of your daily routine. Most people will probably read non-fiction books during their daily learning time, but you can easily substitute audiobooks or podcasts if reading does not come naturally to you. Creating a daily reading habit will ensure that you are regularly learning new things about a wide variety of subjects.
There will also be times in your life that you want to learn a new skill or deep-dive into a specific subject area. You might want to learn professional woodworking, webpage design or accounting. Your daily reading habit probably will not be sufficient when you want to learn a brand skill, especially one that you can apply in the marketplace. In this case, set aside 60 to 90 minutes of focused learning time to work on your new skill for at least four days each week. I also suggest finding a structured learning environment to help facilitate your learning. This might mean taking an online class from Coursera or Udemy, completing a workbook or auditing a class from a local college or university. Working through a structured process will make sure that you don’t miss out on anything important and will push you to keep up with the material as the class or workbook progresses.
Here are a few different educational resources I have found valuable:
- Udemy – Udemy (udemy.com) is an online learning platform that offers more than 40,000 different courses in just about any subject matter that you can think of. The courses tend to have anywhere between four and twenty hours of video instruction and cost between $10.00 and $300.00 to take.
- Lynda – Lynda (lynda.com) is a membership-based online learning platform that hires experts to create online classes. Lynda is well-known for its technical courses like Adobe Photoshop and Final Cut Pro, but also has a broad base of classes for software developers, graphic and web designers, photographers, entrepreneurs, animators and audio and video editors. With its $25.00 per month unlimited membership, Lynda tends to be more cost effective than taking individual Udemy classes.
- Audible – Audible (audible.com) is the world’s largest seller of audiobooks. They have a membership plan where you can download one audiobook each month for $9.95. Listening to books because allows you to read while working out, while in the car or doing chores around the house. If you have a 20 minute commute to work, you could listen to an audiobook on the way to and from work each month.
- Podcasts – I love listening to business, personal finance and entrepreneurship podcasts. I find that podcasts tend to offer more practical advice than business books that target a broader audience. You can view a list of the podcasts I listen to at http://www.mattpaulson.com/latestpodcasts.
- The Kindle Store – I read almost exclusively through the Kindle App on my iPad these days. It’s far more convenient than buying books at a chain bookstore or having them shipped from Amazon. With more than 4 million books in the Kindle store, there is something for everyone. If you want to save some money, local libraries often have free e-book and audiobook rentals through OverDrive.
- Audit University Classes – Most universities allow non-students to audit classes for as little as $50.00 per credit. Auditing a class simply means you are taking a class but don’t have to do any of the homework, you won’t be graded and you won’t receive college credit. Auditing college classes can be a great strategy if you need to learn a professional skill, such as accounting.
Should I go to college or go back to school?
The traditional path of going through college after graduating from high-school serves two purposes. It provides a way for young adults to live away from their parents while still having some guard rails to keep them out of trouble and theoretically prepares them for a career after college. A formal college education tends to work better when you get a degree that prepares you for professional or technical work, such as engineering, law, medicine or technology. A college degree has far less value when you select a liberal arts degree or any degree that doesn’t prepare you to do a specific job. Given the incredible cost of a four-year college education, I would have a hard time recommending that anyone goes to college unless the degree they are getting prepares them to work in a specific industry. If you are in high-school and are heading toward college, pick a degree program can be easily implemented in the marketplace and try to minimize your student loan burden by attending an affordable school, working part-time in college and applying for every scholarship you can think of
If you are an adult learner and are considering going back to college, your decision to attend school should be based almost entirely based on what kind of job you can get by having a college degree that you wouldn’t otherwise qualify for. For example, it probably wouldn’t make sense to spend $50,000 to get a degree in social work that would earn you a job that pays $35,000 per year. If you could spend $50,000 to get a computer science or engineering degree that would earn you a $90,000 per year salary, the math starts to make more sense.
While college is a good path for some adult learners, remember that what you learn is much less important than where you learn it. Employers are beginning to wise-up to the reality that college degrees aren’t the be-all-end-all credential that they used to be. Many employers use a college degree as a way to automatically filter out candidates, but that doesn’t mean they don’t hire people without college degrees. If you don’t have a college degree and are looking for a way to begin a new career, I highly recommend Dan Miller’s book, 48 Days to the Work You Love (www.48days.com). The book provides a strategy to work around the traditional hiring process to set yourself apart from other candidates and get noticed when you otherwise might be passed over.
College degrees are credentials that will allow you to land your first job. Don’t expect that your degree will propel your entire career. After you have been working for more than a couple of years, any future employer will be much more concerned about what you are capable of doing and what you did at your most recent job than where you went to college. When I was working at a web design agency and was considering making a switch, everyone I talked to was more interested in what kind of programming I was capable of doing and the projects I had worked in than they were where I had gone to school. Now that I am entrepreneur, no one ever asks me where I went to college. College can be the right move for some people, but only in the sense that it trains you to do something that other people will pay you to do.
How to Answer Hard Questions
Life-long learning is an important component of developing new skills, increasing your income and attaining your financial freedom. Perhaps even more important is the ability to practice discernment. Discernment is simply the process of making a good decision, especially when the answer to the question you are facing isn’t immediately clear. When you are presented with an opportunity, such as a new job or the chance to start a new business, there are strategies that you can use to find clarity when the answer isn’t immediately clear.
Here are some different ways that you can practice discernment when facing difficult decisions:
- Don’t listen to everyone. Not everyone that gives you advice has your best interest in mind. When someone offers you advice, ask yourself what qualifications they have to give you advice and what might be in it for them if you take their advice. Some people just like to give advice so that they feel helpful, even if they have no idea what their talking about. Focus on getting advice from people that have no vested interest in the decision you make and from people that have specialized knowledge regarding the decision you are making.
- Build a circle of trust. Make a list of friends and business acquaintances that genuinely have your best interest in mind. When making a big decision, run the idea past them so that you can get advice from multiple perspective. Your judgement can sometimes be clouded when agonizing over a decision and trusted friends and family members can often see things that you can’t. The Bible says that “plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed” (Proverbs 15:22).
- Let your Subconscious Do the Thinking – Your brain has the ability to think and make neural connections when you are not actively thinking about an issue. When facing a challenging question, go for a walk or sleep on it and the answer to your question may become clear to you.
- Take The Long View – Instead of asking yourself, “What should I do now?” ask yourself “What would I have rather had done five years from now?” This will shift you from short term thinking to long term thinking and will encourage you to make a decision that might be hard now, but is better for you over the long term.
- Take Yourself Out of The Situation – Sometimes we get mired in our own emotions when making decisions. Pretend that a friend of yours is the making the same decision that you are facing. What advice you would offer to your friend? How would your advice to a friend be different than the advice that you give to yourself?
- Gather More Information – When evaluating a new job or business opportunity, you are often asked to make a decision that will affect the next several years of your life based on a handful of conversations. If you find yourself in a situation where you don’t have enough information to make a decision, go out and seek the information you need. For a career decision, this might mean talking to other people that work for the new company you are considering or doing online research about the company.
- Use a Decision Matrix – A decision matrix is a spreadsheet will help you weigh a variety of different considerations when making a decision between multiple potential choices. It is effectively a pro’s and con’s list on steroids. Life Hacker has put together an easy-to-use decision matrix spreadsheet located at http://bit.ly/lifehackerdecisionmatrix.
Practicing discernment will be increasingly important as you begin to build wealth. You will have to make many tough decisions in terms of what projects you want to pursue and who you want to share your wealth with. Once word gets out that you are someone with significant financial resources, people will come looking for your wealth, your advice and your partnership. Business owners will ask you to invest in their business or become their business partners. Charities will ask for donations. Scam artists may target you and friends may ask for financial help. Many of the requests that you receive will be easy no’s, but other times the answer won’t be so clear. You may genuinely want to help a friend in need out, only to realize that giving them money might not actually be helping them. You might want to help out a non-profit, but aren’t sure that they are spending money effectively. You might get presented with a great job offer or business opportunity that has a substantial opportunity cost that would prevent you from pursuing other projects. When situations like these arise, lean on the strategies above to make wise decisions.
Not every decision that you will make will be perfect. You will probably make a lot of mistakes along the way to your journey to wealth, and that’s entirely okay. I have made more than my fair share of mistakes. I have made bad investments, given money to ineffective charities, launched businesses that have gone nowhere and have done business with people I regret going into business with. The key to making better decisions in the future is to learn from the mistakes that you have made in the past. Take time to evaluate bad decisions, understand why you made the decision that you did and what you would do differently the next time around.
Your long-term career and financial success will depend on your ability to increase the amount of value that you provide to the marketplace overtime. If you know things that other people don’t know, you will be able to things that other people cannot do. In other words, you will be able to do more and create more economic value if you know more than everyone else. By setting out on a path of life-long learning and learning how to effectively practice discernment, you will have the wisdom to build wealth and the wisdom to keep it and use it wisely after you have earned it.
- Develop an automatic learning habit, such as reading 20 minutes per day before bed-time.
- Determine to have a dynamic view of your identity and begin to identify what kind of person you would like to become over the next five to ten years.
- Review whether services like Udemy, Lynda or Audible would accelerate your life-long learning efforts.
- Use the discernment strategies outlined in this chapter when facing a difficult decision