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The Secret Confessions of a Lifelong Learner

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The Secret Confessions of a Lifelong Learner

Helen Say

I have an addiction. I can’t stop learning. I own my own business, I’m a freelance copywriter and I’m in total control of my time and resources. I’m not a salaried employee any more, or a contractor. I don’t fill in annual performance reviews and there’s no obligation on me to attend mandatory courses. 

Yet here I am still doing it. I’m a self-confessed lifelong learner. Still studying, going to conferences and seminars, taking every opportunity to expand my knowledge. 

Why? What do I have to prove to anyone? Why spend my precious “down time” sitting in drafty lecture halls or late nights still plastered to my PC and typing away like a maniac? Why is lifelong learning so important to me?

It’s because I have a niggle in the back of my brain telling me that there’s no way to know everything I need to. The world moves fast, the economy is in a constant state of flux, there’s always something new happening and always more to learn. A bit like an itch that continuously demands to be scratched.

always studying always learning

It started in my early twenties when I was offered my first proper grown-up marketing role. I’d left school at 16 after O-levels (if that doesn’t date me I don’t know what will), taken a City & Guilds in Hotel Administration at college, then gone out to work.

I wasn’t interested in A-levels or university – this was the 1970s and uni wasn’t the default option it seems to be today – all I wanted to do was earn money, buy make-up and go out with boys.

My hotel career was relatively short-lived; after five years of working long days for almost no money, I was burned out, broke, and out of love with that life. I retreated home to my parents and started temping in a local office while I thought about my next move.

That temp job turned permanent and after a year I was approached by the marketing manager wondering if I was interested in joining his team. “But” I spluttered “I don’t have any qualifications” (my impressions at the time being that to work in marketing one needed degrees up the wazoo – still true today, by the way). Not to worry, he said, we’ll sponsor you to get a Marketing Diploma at night school.

learning classroom

So, it began. Two years of evening classes later and I got my CIM Certificate in Marketing. By then I’d moved onto another company who also agreed to sponsor me, and a year (and more evening classes) later, I was the proud holder of a CIM Diploma in Marketing. At the same time, they sent me on various courses (including copywriting), and I grabbed every opportunity with both hands.

Fast forward a couple more years and my first taste of distance learning came courtesy of the Institute of Direct Marketing. That amped up my ability to self-study and within a year I had my IDM Diploma to add to the growing “Education & Training” section of my cv.

My marketing career was well underway by this point, and with every small change in direction I sought out the courses, conferences, symposiums and seminars where I could continue expanding my knowledge and learning. Along the way I picked up certifications as an Internal Auditor, Meeting Facilitator and Health & Safety monitor!  

A few years on and I embarked on my biggest learning adventure yet: a degree from the Open University. Six years later and I walked across the stage of the Barbican to collect my BA Hons Degree in English Language and Literature: still one of the happiest and most emotional days of my life.

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In the middle of all that, I also achieved a CAM Diploma in Digital Marketing. By this point my cv was in danger of spreading onto the dreaded third page of A4.
Now I’m freelancing, owning my career and fortunes, answerable only to myself. And still I’m looking for learning opportunities. In the last six months I’ve done a crash course in HTML, and I’m currently studying with the College of Media and Publishing for an accreditation in Google SEO. It doesn’t matter that I’m now funding my own learning, I’m investing in myself and my business, which trumps any other concerns.

I’m not telling you this to be pretentious. Oh heck, yes, I am. I’m actually very proud of everything I’ve achieved in my life. I shamelessly display all those letters after my name. I worked bloomin’ hard for them so why shouldn’t I?
Regardless, I now have a habit of learning. I can’t pass up a chance to expand my knowledge, acquire a new skill or additional qualification. I’m in it for life, and I make no apologies.
Maybe I’m a late starter. But I would argue that it took until my twenties to hit my stride and work out what I wanted my life and career to be. I was in no position to make that choice at sixteen, or even eighteen. But ever since I’ve been open to whatever learning opportunities have come my way. And when the subject matter and timing worked, and it made sense to do it, that’s exactly what I’ve done.  

Being a compulsive list-maker, I also get immense personal satisfaction with each module completed, each assignment submitted, each tick in the box in my online grade tracker.

another module completed

Even working at my copywriting business has been the biggest surprise boost to my limbic system. Over the last few months I’ve written articles and blogs on the most diverse range of subjects imaginable: from smart technology to lifehacks to fashion to climate change, each article needing to be meticulously researched and composed. My general knowledge has expanded so much I’m in danger of being banned from our local pub quiz.

Have I found the secret to happiness? Maybe, but there are economic imperatives that dictate the pace, and plenty of evidence to suggest that a permanently curious mindset and a daily dose of new knowledge keeps the mind sharp, skills current and the bank balance healthy. And there’s no denying that each new notch on my cv helps with my credibility and authority, even if it is getting a tad too long these days!

I sometimes think about that marketing manager who first set me on this path. Perhaps he saw something in me, or perhaps it was just expedient. He had a vacancy to fill, after all. But whatever it was, he'll probably never know what he started, and I'll always be grateful to him.

Want to pick my brains about copywriting or SEO? Then give me a call and maybe you'll learn something too!