Planning Your Life-Learning Journey

It can be fun to be spontaneous, to just sit back and see where life’s road will take you.

That said, and as any seasoned traveler will tell you, there’s plenty of value in diligent planning for an extended trip. It can be helpful to identify possible destinations, map out different routes, think about necessary supplies, investigate places to stay overnight, estimate costs, form emergency plans, and predict times of arrival.

And, like any other extended trip, thoughtful planning is a key component of almost any successful life-learning.  Such planning can include identifying your goals, different routes for achieving them, the professional and essential skills you will need, your educational costs, the adventures you would like to have along the way, anticipated setbacks or sidetracks, and your estimated times of arrival.

Here are some specific guidelines for planning your life-learning journey.

1. Be honest about what you want (who you want to become) — Remember, it’s your life-learning journey. Your dreams and aspirations are the foundation of this trip. They should frame your decisions about what you study, the experiences you want to engage in, and the destinations where your activities will lead.

2. Be clear about where you want to go (set goals) — It’s almost impossible to arrive someplace specific without identifying clearly where/what that someplace is. After spending time reflecting on your dreams and aspirations (who you want to become), you’re ready to start defining your journey’s destination(s), as well as the goals you want to meet along the way.

In this phase of your planning, take the time to describe your destination(s) in detail. You also want to begin listing goals for your life-learning journey. Try to make these goals as specific and measurable as possible so you can determine whether or not you have reached them.  Also, be sure that your goals are achievable. If they are too difficult you are likely to become discouraged and not commit to your goal. It may be necessary to break a difficult, long-term goal into smaller, more achievable, short-term goals. Are your goals realistic or are they somewhat of a fantasy? For example, is a goal to become President of the United States realistic? If there are obstacles that might prevent you from attaining your goal, be realistic about them. Finally, identify timelines for your goals. This gives you an added push to meet goals within a timely manner.

3. Know where you are now before heading out — At one time or another, most of us have stood in front of a big map trying to figure out where we are in relation to where we want to go. Most of these maps are marked with a big “X” and the words “You are here!” to let us know our “starting point.” The starting point is marked clearly for one simple reason: it’s impossible to get where we want to go if we don’t know where we are.

Knowing your starting point is equally important in navigating our life-learning journey. It gives you a location from which you can plan the best routes to arrive at our planned destination(s). It also provides a valuable data point that can be used to measure the distance you have traveled and the remaining distance to reach your next goal.

In this phase, you should take the time to complete an honest assessment of your current knowledge, skills, and experiences. What do you already know and what can you already do?

4. Know which direction you’re currently heading — Even if you’ve never thought about your life-learning journey, you’re already headed in some direction.  You have new experiences every day. You’re constantly learning new things, either formally or informally. And all of this adds up to learning movement in some general direction, whether it’s intentional or not.

As you plan the first steps in your deliberate learning journey, it’s important to know what kind of adjustments you need to make (if any) to get on the right path. Your plan may have you taking college courses in the next six months? Are you already moving in that direction (reading more and challenging yourself with more intellectually challenging material) or are you drifting off in another direction (just hanging out, watching lits fo TV, and letting your mind stagnate)?

5. Know your next goal — The life-learning journey is a long one. That’s right, you’ll be on it your entire life! And since the journey is so long, it can be hard to keep your destination in focus. It’s relatively easy to keep up with our learning efforts for the next six months, but a 30-year plan can seem both too distant and entirely irrelevant.

Thinking too far out can actually decrease your motivation. This is why it’s important to establish mini-destinations and set short-term goals. You should ist specific and measurable goals for each destination along the way to your final planned stopping point. It’s also helpful to write down, with as much detail as possible, what actions you need to take to reach that next goal.

6. Know your exits well — Not surprisingly, not every journey goes as planned. There are unexpected opportunities, personal interruptions, and other “life got in the way” interludes. You should expect these and realize, from the outset, that your journey will require you to make unplanned stops. For this reason, it’s a good idea to know where you can exit conveniently with as little lost effort or momentum as possible. Finding and planning proactively to use timely exit ramps will keep you moving forward efficiently on your journey and excited about the progress you have made.

Rob Reynolds, Ph.D.
Executive Director, TEL Library