One trait that most successful entrepreneurs—and people in general— share is a commitment to lifelong learning. Increasing knowledge and developing one’s brain doesn’t only happen in academic halls. It is earned by voraciously consuming books, taking courses, attending seminars, asking questions, and being open to constructive feedback. For most people, it is probably a combination of all of these things.
No one is born knowing everything that they need to succeed in life or in business, and few universities are teaching everything you’ll need to know either! Treat your brain like a muscle, and give it regular exercise. An openness to learning new things can change the way that we solve challenges, and pushes us toward new interactions. You never know who you’ll meet as a result of registering for a conference or asking a flight companion about their industry. I’ve often found great relationships and effective networking from simply asking questions.
Aside from entrepreneurial successes, there are infinite benefits for growing professionally and personally, including developing deeper and more meaningful relationships, and not being “the bore” at the office party — everyone loves being around someone who has interesting things to say.
Many of the richest people in the world committed to growing one day at a time. You probably recognize at least a few of these names without having to look them up:
Walt Disney: The famous creator of Mickey Mouse was fascinated with self-education and dreaming up plans for the future. During his time spent in correspondence school, he taught himself to draw. Where would Disney be if he decided that he was too busy to learn new skills because of his school work?
Benjamin Franklin: The inventor of the lightning rod and bifocals committed himself to learning from other people about complex topics, such as meteorology. He was an avid reader who conducted many experiments to test his theories, and is considered by some to have also invented “the American dream,” in which an average guy can achieve just about anything through hard work and self-study.
Shaquille O’Neal: While you probably know that Shaq is a professional basketball player with a platinum record and numerous appearances in popular movies, you may not realize that he also has both his Master of Business Administration degree and a PhD. his doctoral capstone topic was “The Duality of Humor and Aggression in Leadership Styles.” He told a reporter that he plans to further his education by attending law school.
Bill Gates: One of the wealthiest men in the world, Bill Gates often talks about how important it is to continue learning and working toward self-improvement. Even though many people regard him as extremely smart already, he invests in lifelong learning. He reads 50 books per year, and purports that following the 5-hour rule (followed by none other than aforementioned genius Benjamin Franklin) is a vital piece to a growth mindset.
Louis L’Amour: One of America’s most prolific fiction writers dropped out of school at 15 due to family hardship. Spending the next 8 years traveling around the American West doing odd jobs on cattle ranches, farms, lumber mills, and mines didn’t keep him from finding the local libraries the minute he set foot into a new town. He would skip meals to order books from catalogs. But even after becoming a successful writer with over 120 Westerns (many made into successful movies or TV shows), L’Amour never stopped learning.
Abraham Lincoln: The U.S. president known for winning the Civil War taught himself how to be a lawyer.
Alexander Graham Bell: The telephone and telegraph inventor taught himself through self-learning and experimentation.
Elon Musk: His brother says he grew up reading two books every day.
Tips for Developing Your Growth Plan
When it comes to developing your own personal growth plan, you want to create a written plan that’s targeted for your specific personal and professional goals. A generalized plan that would work for anyone probably won’t work well to address your unique knowledge gaps and interests. Evaluate your personal life goals and values, and write a growth plan that includes learning more about what you’re already good at, as well as topics that you’re not good at. Best-selling author Marcus Buckingham of Go Put Your Strengths to Work recommends spending a significantly higher amount of time learning what you’re interested in or good at, and the research backs it up.
Put timelines on your learning. If you want to read 50 books per year, you’ll have to work backwards: figure out how many chapters per day you’ll need to tackle in order to achieve your end goal. Block the time on your calendar as studiously as you would your doctor’s visit or your client meeting.
Don’t follow trends in learning: if you don’t like reading and find yourself putting it off, listen to podcasts or audiobooks. What works for you is what should be working for you! And if you’re listening, why not take the same time to work on other growth plans, like fitness? If you’re a runner, use this time to listen to educational topics in lieu of today’s top 40 hits.
And if you’re not already a runner, maybe try a 30-day running challenge and purpose to get through at least one book a week while running or walking. The act of committing to trying something just outside of your comfort zone can be enough to be a good stretch goal. It can give you confidence to try other “new” things in your life that make you uncomfortable, such as applying for a job just outside your current skill set, or starting to seriously invest your money into new opportunities. While you may not grow into starting a Fortune 500 company, you just might.
Craig Cecilio is the CEO and Founder of DiversyFund, Husband, and Father to three daughters. Craig’s mission is to break down the barriers that keep most Americans from investing like the wealthiest 1%.