I cringe when I hear an adults joke about not having read a book since high school. I especially cringe if the person who says that has any regular interaction with young people. It’s not so much the lack of reading that bothers me most; it’s more the pride that often accompanies the comment.
Parents, educators, youth ministers, and anyone else who works with kids should be the very model of what it means to be a lifelong learner. We should set the standard for both personal and professional growth and those around us— especially young people— should want to follow our example.
But sometimes we get busy or complacent or apathetic. We allow life to happen to us, and before we know it, we find ourselves in a rut, not growing.
To help anyone who feels stagnate or, as Alain de Botton puts it in the quote above, “not embarrassed of who they were a year ago,” here are six suggestions for personal improvement.
- Read daily. There’s a difference in loving to read and loving to have read. Regular reading is a discipline and for many, it does not come naturally. However, loving to have read provides a feeling of personal accomplishment. I once heard Tim Sanders say that the average American businessman reads .7 professional books every five years. However, Dave Ramsey likes to say that the average millionaire reads one profession-related nonfiction book every month. If you want to be successful, then do what successful people do. Make it a habit to read daily, and like any discipline, it will become easier.
- Seek out experts. Attend conferences and develop relationships through social media or even email. You’d be amazed how far an offer to buy lunch for someone you consider to be an expert will take you. I had that experience this past spring when I emailed Eric Sheninger, author of Digital Leadership, and asked him if he’d like to get lunch while he was in Little Rock keynoting a conference. We were able to meet the day prior to the conference, and I learned so much and developed a friendship simply by sending an email and extending an invitation.
- Make connections. Just because something is labeled for one audience does not mean another audience can’t adapt the same principles to a different setting. Being an educator and being an entrepreneur have many similarities, so books on leadership and business are great resources to consider and their ideas have easy carry-over to the classroom.
- Turn off the TV. According to this Neilson report, the average American watches 5 hours of TV a day. Don’t do that. If you feel you have to watch something, substitute TV shows with TED videos or YouTube videos of experts in your field.
- Find the time. In his book Show Your Work!, author/artist Austin Kleon says that when he is asked how he finds the time to get so much done, he responds by saying, “I look for it.” If you want to grow, find the time. Schedule it. Make it a priority. Turn off the TV. Listen to audiobooks or podcasts instead of listening to music. You’ll find the time you need if you look for it.
- Invest in yourself. Career expert Dan Miller suggests budgeting 3% of your annual income for purchasing books and attending conferences. Conference registration expenses can be expensive, but budgeting a set amount each month will allow for bigger expenses.
Lifelong learning is a lifelong adventure— enjoy the ride. Remember to share your experiences with those around you— especially the young people who see you as a role model. And if you haven’t read a book since high school, let’s work on that.
If someone told you he or she hasn’t read a book since high school, what book would you suggest that person begin with? Leave your recommendation in the comments below.