When I was young, grade school age, I loved school. I remember a few times waking up early on a Saturday and getting ready for school, only to be reminded that it was the weekend. I know that sounds nerdy, and I am. I’ve always embraced my nerdiness. Sometime later, I couldn’t wait to finish school and get out into the world. I was a free spirit! I couldn’t be chained down by the institution of higher education! (eye roll) Coincidentally, it started about the time I became interested in boys. Hmmm.
Unfortunately, I was the youngest of four kids, so I think my parents just ran out of energy to encourage college. Add to the mix my senior year was spent at a new “experimental” high school that perhaps could have provided more guidance. A perfect storm. So, I finished high school, a semester early even, got a job, moved out and started adulting. I missed those transformative college years I hear so much about.
In my late twenties, I began to have regrets, but by then, I was married with children. Not the most equal of marriages, my husband made it very clear he would not support any decision to return to school, and would make it very difficult on me. Now, don’t get me wrong, I had a well-paying job that was challenging and well-respected. I just didn’t love it.
Eventually, in my 40s and 50s, I did go to college. By then I had a partner that supported and encouraged me to follow my dreams. I was what they call a “non-traditional” student because of my age, and as most non-traditional students, I excelled because I wanted to be there. It took me a lot longer because I had to schedule it around work, but I loved every second of it, and being surrounded by young people was an added bonus!
Since then, I have never stopped learning. Learning feeds my curiosity, keeps me relevant and expands my world view. In fact, studies show that lifelong learning at any age offers many benefits, including better mental health, increased life span and increased quality of life. Learning keeps the brain sharp and active, and improves memory.
Human beings have a natural drive to learn new things, grow and find personal fulfillment. Besides formal education, this might include learning a new sport, or taking a workshop, or starting a new hobby. The most important thing is to find something that interests you.
Opportunities for learning abound, and most require very little money. Here are some ideas you might want to explore:
Audit a College/University class
Many colleges allow older adults to audit classes for free. Check with a college or university near you to see what they offer. You don’t receive a grade or a credit, so that takes some of the pressure off.
Attend a University lecture
Many colleges also provide short courses and lectures specifically for lifelong learners. At the closest university to me, CSU Fresno, they offer these courses through Osher Lifelong Learning Institude (OLLI). Some are in person, some are online, some are a hybrid, so they make it easy to attend.
Travel to new places
Leave the chi-chi resorts behind and immerse yourself in different cultures. Go off the beaten path, and expand your mind. There are many good travel companies that specialize in this type of travel. I’ve experienced new cultures in my travels with Rotary International.
Learn a new sport
Pickleball anyone? It’s never to late to take up a new sport – I know older folks that are learning to surf! Learning a new sport is good for both your mind and your body.
As a meditation teacher, I’m constantly continuing my education on the subject. When I write a new blog post, I always learn something new. Nothing like teaching others to expand your own knowledge.
Join a book club
Belonging to a book club encourages you to read. Reading provides new information, improves your focus and memory, reduces stress and improves your overall mental health, leading to a longer, happier life.
Take up a new hobby
Hobbies like art, cooking, music, woodworking and writing provides you with new skills and increase your confidence. Hobbies give our brains a break to do something creative.
Lifelong learning feeds your curiosity and keeps your mind sharp. With so many options, it’s easy to find something that makes your heart sing. Now go out and learn something new!