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Learning to Live, Living to Learn

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“I genuinely love being a student: getting to explore entire worlds of knowledge fuels my imagination, and it also serves as a constant reminder of the sheer wonder and complexity of humanity’s project on earth”

I’ve been a student all my life. Back in 1999, at the wee age of four, I was enrolled into Panchshilla Montessori school in New Delhi by my parents. Most of my 25-year-old life since then has been spent hopping from one school to another, the lectures becoming longer and longer, the coursework more and more specialized.

I genuinely love being a student: getting to explore entire worlds of knowledge fuels my imagination, and it also serves as a constant reminder of the sheer wonder and complexity of humanity’s project on earth. One could spend multiple lifetimes studying and mastering just one subfield of an academic discipline.

My own fascination with knowledge building aside, being a constant learner is a vital quality in the workplace too. I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked at newspapers, communications firms, art galleries, and universities. Regardless of the professional setting, all the successful professionals I had the chance to work for shared one trait: they brought a student mentality to their craft. They knew how to get the job done, and were confident in their abilities, but they were also completely open to new information and knowledge. They brought an endless curiosity to the table. Although I was an intern, they were more than willing to listen to my perspective, and even willing to change their opinion on something if my reasoning was strong. Their perpetual desire to learn expressed itself as a constant openness to new ideas.

I’m in the final semester of my Public Relations/Corporate Communications Master’s program in Georgetown University. As a young communications professional, I’ve noticed the central role that learning new skills and tools plays in the communications industry. Finding innovative ways to quantify the impact of effective messaging is the fastest growing segment of the communications field, and the science of public relations measurement has transformed the way the industry operates. This is really the case in every field: innovation is a necessity, and the innovators are the learners, the constantly curious.

The iterative process of studying, learning, and bettering yourself transcends classrooms, Zoom lectures, or even the workplace. Learning is how we understand ourselves, and the world around us. The act of learning is deeply personal, the sum total of all your experiences and ideas about the world interacting with new information.

“Learning is how we understand ourselves, and the world around us”

This deeply personal aspect of learning was discussed at great length by Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha) too. The goal of Buddhism is eliminating human suffering (dukkha) through deeper understanding of oneself. For the Buddha, learning was the endless quest of one’s life. He told his disciples to never be satisfied by the teachings of one master, to keep striving to gain deeper knowledge (Clarici). It was through his own learning and observation that he arrived at a deep understanding of the human condition. The teachings and practices he passed on to humanity have gone on to help generations of people come closer to peace and contentment. The Dhammapada, a collection of Buddha’s sayings in Pali, opens with “Manopubbangama dhamma manosettha manomaya,” which translates to, “All experience is preceded by mind,
led by mind, made by mind” (Bodhipaksa, 2016). The student mentality is a mindset: a mind that’s always open to learning is a flourishing one.

If you’re more persuaded by science than spirituality, there’s still ample evidence to support this point. Recent neurological research has found that learning actively promotes brain health, limiting age-related cognitive decline and memory loss (Learning Helps Keep Brain Healthy, 2015). Other studies have even found that adult education helps promote happiness and emotional well-being (Vitelli, 2012). When it comes to learning how to live, living to learn really is the way to go.

“The student mentality is a mindset: a mind that’s always open to learning is a flourishing one”

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