I turned 40 recently, which according to most people means I’ve hit the midway point in life. I’m now “over the hill” and everything is downhill from here. Fortunately, I’m an optimist by nature and to me 40 is just another number. Besides, I’m a financial planner and I know my actual life expectancy isn’t really 80. According to the living to 100 life expectancy calculator, I’m going to live to 87 so I still have 3.5 more years before I hit the halfway point. I guess that means I have a few more years to decide which sports car to buy for my mid-life crisis!
Kidding aside, I’m also well aware that tomorrow is never guaranteed so I try my best to live in the moment and to be thankful for every day. While hitting the big 4-0 might not mean a lot to me, it does give me a reason to step back and reflect on what I’ve learned in my first forty years on this earth. One thing that strikes me the most as I get older is that the more I learn, the more I find out how much I don’t know! I guess Socrates was right…
When we are young, we think we need to learn things in school so we can get good grades, get into college and get a job. We associate learning with tests and grades and think that once we get through all this education we will know everything and finally be free to do whatever we want. In reality, all that learning is really just the starting point and gives us the basic knowledge we need to explore the world further. It’s as if we’ve peeled the first layer of an onion but we need to keep peeling more layers to find out what’s underneath.
Albert Einstein is quoted as saying “Once you stop learning you start dying”. I don’t know if he really said this, but I do believe it’s true. Curiosity leads to learning, which leads to growth and without growth we stagnate. Here are some ways to ensure you keep learning:
Stay curious - When we are young our favorite word is “why” because the whole world is new to us and we are curious about everything. As we grow older it’s easy to think we know everything so we lose that childlike curiosity. Our curiosity doesn’t go away, we just stop paying attention to it and accept things as they are. So pay attention to your curiosity.
Let your curiosity decide what you learn - Lawrence Yeo recently wrote about how true learning takes agency. I learned a lot in college, but I think I learn even more when my curiosity drives me to a topic I’m interested in. There is truly no shortage of topics and ways to learn, and there are always new things to learn. I’ve spent time doing deep dives on the blockchain, cryptocurrency, and Web 3.0 over the past year, three things that didn’t even exist when I was in college!
Don’t accept the easy explanation - How often have you had a question, typed it in Google and accepted the first answer that pops up? It is far too easy to get answers these days but often the easy answer isn’t the right answer. Take the time to dive deeper and you never know what you’ll learn.
Learn new skills because they’ll stick with you forever - I recently went skiing for the first time in over 20 years. We skied a lot when I was young but stopped after high school. I wasn’t sure how it would go but as soon as I stepped into those skis it all came right back to me. You’ve likely had the same experience with other skills, like riding a bike. Once you learn a skill like that, it will stick with you forever.
Don’t focus on only one topic - In his book Range, David Epstein explains how important it is to have a broad range of skills and knowledge because our modern world is so interconnected. We see this in our daily work as we integrate the various aspects of our clients’ financial lives, from taxes to investments to cash flow planning. As Epstein writes, “One good tool is rarely enough in a complex, interconnected, rapidly changing world. As the historian and philosopher Arnold Toynbee said when he described analyzing the world in an age of technological and social change, “No tool is omnicompetent.”
Have a growth, not fixed mindset - Carol Dweck writes in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, that people tend to have one of two mindsets. Some people have a fixed mindset, and they view intelligence as static and unchangeable. People with a growth mindset believe intelligence can be developed. Those with a growth mindset reach higher levels of achievement and have a greater sense of free will.
Write to learn - One of the reasons I write is that it forces me to really understand the topic I’m trying to write about. I love to consume information, almost to a fault. I am constantly reading and trying to learn more about what is happening in the world. But reading and consuming information doesn’t always translate to real knowledge. The best way to make sure you truly understand what you’ve been reading is to try to put it into words and to connect the various dots. As Paul Graham recently put it “Writing about something, even something you know well, usually shows you that you didn't know it as well as you thought. Putting ideas into words is a severe test.”
I have learned a lot in my first 40 years, but I know there is much more to learn and I won’t stop until my brain won’t let me. Every new topic I try to master is just another hill to climb. So I might be “over the hill”, but I’m hoping there are many more hills in my future. And I’ll keep writing about them for my own benefit and for yours.
-Chris Benson, CPA, PFS
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