Lifelong Learners Get the Most Out of the Old and the New
Lifelong Learners Get the Most Out of the Old and the New

If you commit yourself to lifelong learning, you’ll always be seeing the world through new eyes.

You know the traditional cartoon showing a tired old man, usually bent over a cane, with a sash reading the number of the outgoing year. Next to him is a chubby-cheeked, smiling infant with a sash bearing the new year on it. Good riddance to the worn-out, moribund old year! Welcome to the fresh new one, with all its possibilities!

The tradition of seeing the new year as an infant dates all the way back to ancient Greece, but the mental picture you have right now probably comes from the classic covers of the Saturday Evening Post. That magazine published such an image yearly from 1907 through the Forties and you’ll see them reproduced ever since. They’re part of our cultural history. The idea is pretty simple: Father Time (in this case, 2019) is old and worn out, and we need to send him away, wisdom and all, and start the new year fresh with Baby 2020.

There’s only one thing wrong with that idea: It’s that Father Time knows a thing or two, and he shouldn’t be summarily dismissed like that. Nor should your best ideas and all the things you’ve learned in the past year.

So, to extend this rather tortured metaphor a bit further, how do you keep everything you learned last year and still look at the world with the fresh, unspoiled, trusting outlook of a child?

Simply put, you can do it by seeing the freshness in every experience. Commit yourself to looking for the lesson in whatever happens, wherever you go. If you can do that, the business world will look less depressingly gray as you enter the early months of a new year; life will be fresher for you and challenges will be easier to attack. Through the eyes of a child, you’ll always be seeing new things, always finding new experiences to astonish you. By all means, you have to keep in your memory the hard lessons you’ve learned and problems you’ve encountered, but be ready to add to that memory store. Vow to learn something new every day.

Lifelong learning, as a pledge you make to yourself, is how you greet each new year with glee and excitement. It’s how you make your business better than the competition’s, because you aren’t resting on your laurels. (As my mentor, Tom Peters once said, “today’s laurels are tomorrow’s compost”). It’s new to you, so you aren’t ever ‘done.’

In a way, the metaphor is actually perfect. You, in your business head, are carrying around a jumbled combination of tradition and innovation. At least, if you’re doing it right you are. You know that building older relationships and following tried and true pathways in business are both essential. You also know, and this is more true with each passing year, that you have to “stay with the times” to get business, too. You want people to trust that you’ve been around the block a few times and have experience, but you don’t want to be hidebound. Commit yourself to the new year with fresh eyes, with the willingness to see something new and figure out how to incorporate it into the value you’ve already built over the past year and beyond.

There’s so much that goes into the commitment to see the world through fresh eyes, to be that Baby New Year and not that hunched-over old guy. As anyone who has held a sleeping infant can attest, seeing the world as a child means you are committed to trust the important people in your world. It also means you commit to forgive them. It means you build deep and lasting relationships with new and old friends and colleagues. All of that is just damn good business—and it leads to the building of a life that works for you, this and every year.