Are You Addicted to Learning?
Photo courtesy of Markus Reinhardt.

Are You Addicted to Learning?

Written by Bev Webb

Topics: Education, Multipotentialite Patterns

I’ve just taken on some new work, and not surprisingly for a multipotentialite, it’s going to take me off on a bit of a career tangent.

There I was, brimming with excitement as I chatted to a friend about all the juicy details.

“Oooh, I don’t know how you do it,” she exclaimed. “I couldn’t face the idea of having to retrain, especially at our age!”

I have to admit I was totally flabbergasted by her comment, and once I’d had time to pick my jaw up off the floor, I re-ran the conversation in my head. I couldn’t imagine not wanting to change career every few years, and I certainly couldn’t imagine not wanting to keep on learning my whole life.

She’d made it sound as though learning was a chore, something to be avoided unless absolutely necessary, almost as though it was a punishment. Whereas I’ve always thought learning was fun. In fact, I’d so far as to list it as one of my top five, all time favourite activities.

Learning is not just a means to an end

I guess our approach to learning is one of the main differentiators between multipotentialites and specialists.

For many specialists, learning is something they need to do in order to demonstrate their expertise. By studying for a certificate, diploma or degree, they’re able to evidence their competence to undertake tasks within their specialism. The learning is just something they have to do along the way.

We multipotentialites on the other hand, often crave learning and unlike the specialist, it’s rarely for the piece of paper we receive at the end.

Is it the learning experience itself, not the certificate, we’re after?

You’re probably familiar with the heady rush that comes from signing up for a new course and the sense of excitement at what is to come. With eager anticipation each summer, I look forward to the launch of the new course prospectus from my local college. I scour their website in search of new classes to take. Will it be Spanish or Italian this year? Or maybe yoga? Horticulture? Metalwork?

In addition to perusing the evening classes, I probably spend the equivalent of several weeks each year, surfing university websites and pondering whether to sign up for another undergraduate or postgraduate degree.

It’s just for fun you understand, my learning desire’s not part of some grand career plan.

It all stems from a deep rooted desire to learn, and it’s a desire that ignites an internal battle within me: part of me eager to enroll now, whilst another part attempts to rationalise that burning desire. I try to remember I’m in learning “crave” mode, and not to part with my cash until I’ve slept on any decision for at least a few nights.

But these days temptation is everywhere. Have you seen the online, open access courses being offered by the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)?

Where once we were limited by geographic location, a lack of finance, or even social class, now it’s possible to study with some of the world’s greatest universities, and all from the comfort of your very own sofa. You can choose to take modules with US universities such as MIT, Princeton, Stanford and Harvard. With the best part being, it’s totally free! Who’d have thought that’d ever be possible?

As someone based outside the US, I certainly didn’t. I can barely hide my delightment that this educational model has caught on and is going global. Following hot on the heels of the US-based MOOCs, an Australian version has already launched and a new partnership of UK universities (Futurelearn) begins in autumn 2013.

I really feel like I’m a kid in a candy store. I just don’t know which course to choose first

I’m fascinated too, by the wealth of opportunities that this online learning revolution can provide, not just for me, but for people worldwide. Maybe we really are entering a new age of enlightenment, a 21st century learning Renaissance.

If this truly is the age of knowledge, where better for us multipotentialites (or Renaissance Souls as we’re sometimes called) to find ourselves, but at the very heart of a new era of learning?

Now all we’ve got left to do is work out how to balance those intense cravings for learning, with the number of spare hours we have in a day. (And that, as they say, could take some time.)

Over to you!

Do you get learning “cravings”? Have you found a way of managing them, or do you enjoy giving in to them?

bevBev is an artist, creativity coach and founder of Kickass Creatives, a website offering practical support to frustrated creatives. She’s over 20 years of working in the arts: experimenting with everything from performing in a fire circus and managing a hiphop dance company, through to web consultancy and jewellery design. Bev is passionate about using her experience to enable others to fully develop (rather than hide) their multitude of talents too. Connect with her on Twitter @creativekickass.

35 Comments

  1. Im SOOO addicted to learning! I am after the experience, not certificates or credentials.

    I’m a doula, that is considering learning Craniosacral Therapy.

    I’m also an herbalist about to finish one program and start another.

    I’m also a photographer, specializing in maternity/birth/nursing portraiture but exploring thematic and glamour sessions. Can’t wait to learn how to incorporate video into my photography business.

    I love learning!!!!!

    • Bev Webb says:

      Hi Cindy. Sounds like you truly have learning addiction! When it’s not for the certificates, you know that you’re really hooked on it. I think it’s one of the best characteristics about being a multipotentialite and we should declare it with pride. :)

  2. Lori Stalter says:

    I have fallen into both camps during my lifetime. Sometimes I just wanted the degree or certificate so I could go on my merry way and prove I was qualified to gain entrance into a certain field. Other times I become a learn-aholic and want to learn for the sake of exploration and interest.

    Sometimes it’s so hard to turn down opportunities. Here lately, I’ve been training myself to say no if I have any other courses on my plate I haven’t finished yet (I’m currently doing two).

    Yeah the whole “at your age” mentality needs to come to an end. I think we’re heading into a future where we’ll need to remake ourselves often to keep up with changing times and shifting employment opportunities. I think more and more people are going to identify as being multi out of need.

    • Bev Webb says:

      Hey Lori. Yep, I reckon having two or more courses on the go at the same time is a wee bit of a tell-tale sign!

      I totally take on board your point that sometimes we need a qualification to be able to work in a particular field, it’s just that we never seem to stop at that point. Mmmmm, just one more course… (*drool*)

      Yeah, that whole “at your age” thing is really lame – it speaks of a world that is rapidly disappearing into the past. Changing times and employment uncertainties will surely be the impetus for more life-long learners! :)

  3. Heather says:

    I am definitely addicted to learning! Ever since graduating from college (10 years ago) I’ve said that I would be a student forever if only I could afford it!
    Since then I’ve learned to knit, learned to scuba dive and become a scuba instructor, taken glass blowing and photography classes, I’ve loved them all. Next year I think I’m taking an herbalist apprenticeship and can’t wait! I’ll never understand people who think they’re too old to learn something new.

    • Bev Webb says:

      Hi Heather. I too would be a student forever – am totally with you on that! I love the combination of different skills you’ve been learning and the way you’ve been feeding your desire to learn. I must confess that glass blowing is on my list of must-dos – did you enjoy it? :)

  4. Emmanuelle says:

    Oh my guru yes, I can’t imagine a life without learning. Seriously if I could get paid to learn and read books and get all this knowledge in my head, I would do it.

    • Bev Webb says:

      Hi Emmanuelle. Oh yeah, that would be amazing! Maybe there’s an opportunity out there for you; many people in the past wouldn’t have believed it would be possible to earn a living by playing computer games or hanging out on social media (which can now be legitimate careers!) :)

  5. melissa says:

    This is just too timely! I’ve been thinking of going back to Uni just for fun, and to take a bunch of subjects that I would find interesting but have no value career wise. It’s kind of funny, and yes I agree,alarming, that people can’t understand why you would do that just for fun.”But what would you do with it?!” they ask. “For fun!” I say. “Oh…”
    So nice to find a site where wanting to learn everything and not having to have a career based reason behind it is the norm :)

    • Bev Webb says:

      Hey Melissa. Yep, wanting to learn ‘everything’ is totally the norm round here! I love the idea of learning for fun – what better reason could there be than to have so much passion for a subject, that you just have to jump in and immerse yourself in it? :)

  6. Melanie says:

    I’m 52 and at the weekend I was at drum camp playing drums, kora and mbira, mostly self taught and someone asked me how many instruments I play. I listed some but made a point of saying that the piano is really my main one (having taken all the exams, and I teach piano). Then I said that I play a bit of violin . I told them how I had just taken my grade 4 violin, 30 years late after family and life happened. But I had completely messed it up with my bow bouncing madly out of control. I was sure I had scraped a pass at best, so to speak. I was resigned to a disappointing result.
    When I got back home the result had arrived, 2 marks off distinction. Resignation to elation in a second! Now I would definitely say I play violin. So I suppose that bit of paper is important to me, and with that confidence I will go on to the next stage.

    Having said that, as a musician and composer, who has also taught music for 34 years, I am not employed by music services to teach piano in schools because a have not got the particular (minor) qualification they want, despite the fact that there are plenty of terrible teachers about who do. Insistance on particular qualifications is an easy way to exclude awkward people who don’t particularly want to specialise and don’t feel like making themselves into the correct shape and size of fish to fit in the small ponds that some organisations are. Maybe we just need to choose carefully who we trust to judge us.

    Here’s a quote from the ABRSM website;
    Sir Hubert Parry : “For the most part the objects which approve themselves to us are not so much the award of well-deserved certificates… but to give people something definite to work for; to counteract the tendency to sipping and sampling which so often defeats the aspirations of gifted beings, and also to give people… opportunities to be intimately acquainted with the finest kinds of musical art, and to maintain standards of interpretation and an attitude of thoroughness in connection with music which will enable it to be most fruitful of good.”

    Sipping and samping is fine with me actually, but then, when we do set out on a learning journey it sometimes helps to have milestones we have chosen for ourselves, and to point at, when others keep asking why we are doing what we do, (while neglecting what we should be doing).

    • Bev Webb says:

      Hey Melanie! You make a really good point in that sometimes that piece of paper is a validation that we personally need.

      I often hear folk referring to themselves as ‘amateur’ if they don’t have a qualification, and in this context ‘amateur’ does not reflect the ability of that individual (who may be extremely skilled), but rather the lack of a formally recognised credential. If the certification boosts confidence and self-belief in their ability, then it is a useful tool and serves a definite purpose.

      But as you rightly point out, sometimes having to have a specific qualification becomes an unnecessary barrier, as with the teaching example you give. I too have had the experience of not being able to do a particular job because I didn’t have a specific minor qualification, but the daft thing was, I have a more extensive post-graduate level one instead! Sometimes these things just don’t make any sense. :)

  7. Cassie says:

    I love this post, Bev, because I’m so happy to hear from other learning addicts! To those who said variations of “I’d be a student the rest of my life if I could”: I FEEL YOU and ME TOO! I spend my spare money on books and online resources. I assign myself research projects. I get visibly excited before entering a museum. I lose DAYS to studying for the fun of it.

    I do indulge my learning cravings more often than not, and while it’s certainly not a bad way to spend time, my input frequently exceeds my output–this is something I want and need to change. Would love to hear how others go about this!

    • Bev Webb says:

      Hey Cassie. Books, yes! Online resources, yes! Have to confess, they’re probably my absolute favourite purchases to make. (Oh, and maybe art materials or equipment too.)

      I think it’s really tricky to get the balance right between input and output. I wonder if it’s because learning can be an activity where we enter into a state of flow? It’s easy to get on a roll and for the time to fly by as we absorb more and more information. :)

    • Laurie says:

      Of course I’d find you here, Cassie. As soon as I saw the title I knew this post was for me. Sigh.

      I’m totally loaded down this week with work but somehow I found time to add 4 business books to my waitlist at the library.

      I have the same Input/Output imbalance. I have to be careful or I could drown in research and learning. And sometimes I do, then realize I’ve accomplished nothing all day and finally squeek out something productive so the whole day isn’t a waste. Or is it?

      • Cassie says:

        @Laurie LOL! Yeah, this post had our names written all over it.

      • Bev Webb says:

        Hi Laurie. That input/output balance is soooo tricky to get right, isn’t it?!! When you’ve a hunger for learning, it takes real discipline to pull yourself away from the book/course/internet! I wonder if we need to redefine what constitutes being ‘productive’ as seen from a multipotentialite perspective? :)

  8. Margaux says:

    Yes yes yes! I was just telling the SO last week that I can’t wait until I hit 65 so I can go back to university for free (well, hopefully, tuition will still be free for seniors by the time I am one). He asked me what I wanted a degree in and I said everything.

    Yup. Did yoga teacher training (not certified yet—but learned a lot of what I wanted to learn), cranio-sacral therapy training (also not certified—should probably start over again), fitness trainer course (not certified yet)…

    Now, I’m taking “The Science Of Gastronomy” through Coursera (MOOC), and just finished the “Developing Innovative Ideas for New Companies” course. Also going through “A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior” and “Writing II: Rhetorical Composing.” Thinking about “An Introduction to Guitar” and will possibly follow along with “Exercise Physiology: Understanding the Athlete” for a refresher.

    Elsewhere, I’m signed up for Travel Writing, Travel Photography, and Travel Filmmaking courses (MatadorU), and an iOS development course (Udemy).

    I think that there are other people out there who look at education not for the degree or certification, but also for what it can help you do later. I work with entrepreneurs and one of our coaches asked me what I was passionate about, and I told him one thing was learning. He asked to what purpose, and I said generally for no purpose except that I’m curious and want to know stuff. He replied that he like to learn, also, but only insofar as it meant he was improving something in himself such that that helped him be more productive or valuable to his clients. He’s an entrepreneur and a coach, so you can see why he would think this way.

    So I would say it’s not simply learning for credentials vs. learning for fun, but learning for an end purpose (certificate or skill improvement or to impress someone) vs. learning for fun & curiosity.

    • Bev Webb says:

      Hi Margaux. Oooooh, just the thought of being able to go to university for free sends shivers down my spine!

      I absolutely take on board what you say, and would agree that the reasons we decide to study are multi-faceted and often entwined. There’s a lot of overlap, especially between learning for fun and learning in order to improve yourself. Subjects which we find ‘fun’ are often the things we want to do more of, and can impact on our choices of career. :)

      • Margaux says:

        Hi Bev,

        Well, maybe, maybe not. Not much of what I want to learn will become a possible income source. That’s never my first thought: how can I do this more and make money from it? It’s only after I’ve learned a lot more that I start to think about this possibility, but I usually abandon the idea quickly because it would mean a great deal of specialised focus on the subject, and I’m never fully committed to that.

        When I took yoga teacher training, I wasn’t thinking about becoming an instructor. At all. And I even told everyone that. I took craniosacral therapy because I thought it was an interesting idea and wanted to see how it actually worked, if it actually worked. I have never actually used it on anyone. I want to learn to play the cello (and the ukulele), but I’m sure I don’t want to join an orchestra. I’m taking culinary science classes and I dislike cooking, don’t do it now, and am not interested in doing it regularly in the future. (I only cook when the SO gets tired of doing it and makes me.) I also don’t see how I could be teaching other people about cooking science to make money either. I love learning about neurobiology, consciousness theories, history of quantum mechanics, history of French and English monarchy, aerodynamics, spread of languages, evolutionary biology, immunology, sports science, oenology, and on and on—and I have absolutely no use for any of that knowledge. I’m not interested in “doing more” of any of that.

        I agree, there are obviously some things I’m learning because it will clearly help my career: iOS app development, product management, online marketing. Although I soak up a lot of information on these things quickly and with some enjoyment, I’m *only* learning them so I can use them. I can honestly say I would not be looking into product management classes if it wasn’t the only way for me to keep moving ahead in my career. I don’t think I’d call it “fun” so much as “not boring.”

        So, sure, there are a few things that I’m learning that I want to do more of and will have an impact on my career. But most of what I want to learn has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with getting any “real” results.

        For me, this is what makes me clearly one of Barbara Sher’s Scanners or a Learner according to Strengthsfinder and not just a Multipotentialite with a lot of different interests. I’m not interested in results (or an improved skill level or certificates) so much as the concepts themselves being transferred into my brain. That’s all I want.

  9. Jay Johnson says:

    If being addicted to learning is wrong, I don’t want to be right. ;-)

  10. Jessica says:

    Haha love it Jay! I totally agree…

    In the famous words of Ghandi:

    “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”

  11. Coco says:

    YEP.

    It puzzles me a great deal when people seek education only as a means to an end, rather than a response to their unending curiosity. I’m the person who loves instruction manuals and handbooks, who views the internet as a library in my lap, who gets absorbed in the dictionary when looking up a word, and who dreamt of going to college alongside my son when I sent him to school two years ago, such were the magnetic descriptions in his college catalog.

    It clashes with convention to be a constant learner who’s never content, who can’t just settle on a career and “be happy.” And it’s certainly hard to want to know so much and learn new things all of the time and all at the same time. I think I’ve learned to put blinders on at times, if only to get mundane things done, but not to satisfy those who want to contain me in order to keep their own world in predictable order.

    • Bev Webb says:

      Hi Coco. Great point about being able to put blinders on. The craving for learning can be so great that it just takes over. I guess we all need to find mechanisms to help us deal with those cravings and avoid becoming overwhelmed by the sheer volume of input! :)

  12. shishir says:

    Learning something new is good thing, but when you get addicted you feel bad at some point,I can’t explain my hunger of learning new thing, chasing perfection in them, at last I get bored and switch to another.

    • Bev Webb says:

      Hey Shishir. Ah yes, that feeling of getting bored and switching to something new. A classic example of how the multipotentialite mind works! :)

  13. Michaela says:

    This is me 100%! I am addicted to learning. I’ve never gone more than a year without studying something.

    I’m just about the start a masters degree on top of already having an undergrad degree, a diploma and countless smaller courses under my belt! Like you say, it’s not for the piece of paper at the end it’s for the joy of learning something new.

    It’s always tough for me to understand people who don’t seem to enjoy the learning process. It is one of my favourite things to do too Bev!

  14. Bev Webb says:

    Hi Michaela. Yey for learning addiction!! Just reading through the comments on this post, I think there are a great number of us who love to learn just for the fun of it. Good luck with your masters! :)

  15. Amy says:

    OMG. I just found this website and cried with relief! I found my people! I have to say, multipotentialite describes me to a T. I actually really want to get a Masters degree in organic chemistry, but never went through with it because I don’t actually want to do anything with it long term, and that was an awful waste of time and money. But I think organic chemistry is fun, and interesting, and I really like using my brain for something complex and challenging so I don’t feel like it’s rotting away. I’d rather be doing mechanisms than watching reality tv that’s for sure! I think it would be fun to teach college ochem… for a semester or two, but I don’t really want to do much else with it. But who on earth gets a masters degree in ochem just for the hell of it? A multipotentialite that’s who!

    Man, I finally feel like I have permission to be myself, especially the idea of redefining what success and finishing looks like. I could probably use some focus to follow through on a few things, and completing projects is a good thing… but on other things, being able to let go or shelf it if I get bored is such a freeing concept! It’s also helpful to realize that I don’t have to get “stuck” doing one thing forever, and that I have my whole life to do my whole long list of interests, and don’t have to do it all at once. But doing 5 at once is totally ok too! :)

    • Emilie says:

      Yay! Your comment made me so happy, Amy. Also I love this:

      “Who on earth gets a masters degree in ochem just for the hell of it? A multipotentialite that’s who!”

      Haha. Funny enough I’m taking a chemistry class right now.

      Welcome home. :)

  16. Aakashdeep says:

    Wow,its been more than a year now addicted to it and now I am exploring about Addictive learning
    Earlier it was all blurred.I thought that its just me who is experiencing it,but wait there is huge lot :)
    I always thought that these all lessons are some way or the other derived from nature/environment.So if we become better observers then we can surely become better learners

    And now I am a better(spiritualist,humorist,singer,dancer,tech-ist,analyst etc…)I dont even know what they are called but I know that I know

    Getting high on Dopamine

    One way of controlling this maybe,to spare some time for your families and for those “essential but not so important” work like to get good grades by mugging etc.

    But definitely nice article

  17. Frances says:

    I’ve been learning my whole life and will continue learning till i die. Learning is a way I enjoy the journey and not just the destination :) Great post! Also if anyone has any ideas on how to manage overwhelm from a whole lot of input at once I would really appreciate the help. I’m currently on a learning binge right now and I also want to use the knowledge I’m acquiring at the same time and there are just not enough hours in the day.

  18. Ashish says:

    Hello , I am From India ……
    I love learning so much that i just planned to study my whole life ,
    i wanted to as much degrees as i can , i wanted to be like mike nicholoson , a man who has 33 college degree !
    when i dreamed of my lifelong learning process ,i just forgot that i depend on my parents for money !
    Now after a financial crisis , We have no money left even for my undergraduate degree !
    this made me so tensed that i failed in my 11 grade !
    I was thinking that the cause of my failure was my tension to survive .
    but this was not the true cause ,the reason was that Indian education system is based on roat learning , here students in school just learn some facts and some questions and answers and just spit the filthy knowledge on answer sheets .
    I was kind of practical thinking person !
    I joined several MOOC’s and learned a lot there !
    all kids of my age were mugging up the books & i wand doing fun learning !
    this made me failed !
    Nobody Damn cares here that how knowlegdable a person is ?
    Education system just caress about your degree and your college .
    There is hell lot of competition
    in college entrance exams like IIT-JEE ,around 30,00,000 student participate for just 16,000 seats .
    For These seats to get U should Have you textbooks word to eord o your mouth .
    No aptitude matters ! your ability to learn books matters here !
    they Say they are learning ,i say they are muuging like morons !
    For real learning i am repeating a year at my school , i will totally focus on my high school examinations !
    And then i will rome around the world for my quest of knowledge !
    the world should be ready to take me ! i will go at any condition for true pure knowledge !
    Jai Hind !
    Jai Bahrat !

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