We’re all learning. And, learning at our own pace.

When we forget this vital aspect of the nature of learning — forgetting, as it is so easy to forget!, that each of us has our own journey to travel and our own lessons to learn, and at our own unique pace — its an insult to learning, itself.

Learning is no competition. It is not a race.

And what a grand mistake it is for any of us to compare or contrast the pace at which we learn — where we are, what we’re doing in our lives, and how we’re doing it — to the pace of others.

Sadly, today’s education system regiments the nature learning into stiff, stagnant, core curriculums, from which each and every student is so frequently weighed and contrasted against his or her peers. I’m not sure of what a better solution there could be, unfortunately. What I do know is that this system is a convenience for the institution and its instructors: short-term practicality, bureaucratic pragmatism, at the expense of long-term learning and growth of its diverse students.

I don’t mean to provoke a debate over the education system, however — here, I wish to talk with you about learning in life, itself. The modern education system is a very big and complicated topic that demands (and deserves!) far, far more than a flippant diagnosis from someone as unknowledgeable on the subject as me!

Learning in life. Yes. Outside of the walls of school. With the sky as your classroom, and every stranger as your classmate, and every friend as your instructor. That’s where it’s at.

Life-long learning has been on my mind in the last week as I spent about eight days and nights down in Austin, Texas for South by Southwest (SWSX). I reunited with a bunch of friends from around the world and made new friends who hail from all walks of life. And with every discussion and conversation, my mind kept wandering to the idea of learning — and learning at our own paces.

From stories of travel and entrepreneurship, questions on writing and life-exploring, from current “what I’m doings” to every past “life I used to live” tale, the concept of learning stuck out. Vividly. It became a beautiful point of recognition. And its an absolutely fascinating topic for consideration for a leader without followers:

How does a leader without followers complement the learning of others? How can we each act like an accelerant to another soul’s learning processes? How can we encourage his or her learning, without forcing our own opinions or wills upon them — if even quietly or subtly?

3 Ways to Love the Never-Ending Journey of Learning

• Firstly, to truly love the never-ending journey of learning is to remain cognizant and keenly aware of your ability to learn something new every day. And, at your own pace. But if you feel that “drive” of a leader within — that overwhelming urge, the compelling need to give, help, contribute, assist, love, and serve others — you will probably feel very determined to explicitly seek out opportunities, situations and relationships that contribute widely to your learning.

This is something I’ve been practicing deeply in the last six months. It’s also become the way that I overcame old feelings of anxiety (pre-emptive failure) and social discomfort in different, unfamiliar situations. Bonus points. :)

How to do it: Immerse yourself in a new, even uncomfortable situation to gain new perspective and awareness. Ride the bus. Seek out that new mentor or a group of devout supporters to your mission, values and goals. Set plans with a friend and experience the depth of conversation together.

Expect less, experience more.

• Second, loving learning means also to recognize and remain ever respectful of the pace at which others’ are always learning, too.

As Lao Tsu said, look to nature: “Nothing is rushed, and yet everything is accomplished.” A tree can take decades to reach its heights, but flowers spring to life in just a few weeks. The monarch butterfly migrates hundreds of miles every winter, but the powerful bear takes to simple slumber for the duration of the coldest seasons.

Each, at its own pace.

This is one of my favorite sayings from ancient Chinese philosopher, Lao Tsu. He and his famed works in the Tao te Ching have a special place in my heart for this very reason: its passages contain soul-opening genius through sheer simplicity.

Speaking of which, I revamped and relaunched my popular 18in18 program this week, and it’s better than ever. And as a thank you for you being so incredible, I’m giving away 18 subscriptions for free. Scroll below the post for details, or visit 18in18.com!

• And finally, with the earlier question at hand, how does a leader without followers contribute to the lives of others and their lifelong learning?

You can become the accelerant of another’s learning in an endless variety of ways: facilitating a connection to another person on a similar path, or to a helpful mentor-figure that might provide valuable guidance. You can offer your help, and asistance, your encouragement and confidence.

But one of the most powerful tools and allies of a leader without followers is questions.

Questions incite a beautiful riot of thought and emotion — and when an encouraging voice like yours asks the right questions from a place of care and love, even the scariest of questions (as in, the ones you know you need to answer) become trusted guides:

Road signsDirectional signals pointing to the path ahead. Accelerators of learning, growth, and new achievement.

When you can help accelerate the learning, growth and achievement of those around you — whether explicitly, or with an invisible hand — you’re positively changing the lives of others as a leader. Whether or not you have “followers” watching on.

Look within for your abilities; make good things happen for those around you. Leadership really is as simple as that.

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Until next time, keep learning! Drop me a line in the comments below, and let me know how you strive to help the lifelong learning of others.

We’ll chat again very soon :)

* P.S. — This week, I’m relaunching my popular program, 18in18: lessons from the tao. I created 18in18 to help people like you learn the powerful lessons behind the ancient Tao te Ching in a very simple, practical and inspiring format: you get 18 emails every morning with life-lessons, quotes, affirmations and two bonus workbooks (containing all of the above, so you can keep ’em forever) over the course of 18 life-changing days. Check it out at !

Because you are simply awesome, I want to give away 18 subscriptions ($36 value each!) to my loyal readers and unleaders. To enter for a chance to win:

  • (step 1) Visit 18in18.com,
  • (step 2) Facebook-Like or ReTweet the site to your friends (links are in the top header at 18in18.com),
  • (step 3) Leave a short comment below on how you strive to learn everyday or, better yet, contribute to the learning of others as a leader without followers. :)

* * P.P.S. — Since a lot of you have often enjoyed my (very) random music suggestions, here’s a new one for you: Luis Banuelos – Playing a Cloud. I heard Luis shredding guitar at an event called The Startup Crawl down at SXSW last week. Luis has an incredible sound, and makes his guitar sing like a soulful, mariachi-styled Carlos Santana.

  • Here’s an inspiring article about how he discovered his first guitar (dumpster diving!)
  • And a video of Luis shredding live at SXSW, 2011. Enjoy :)

* * * P.P.P.S. — Remember the promotion I did last week? For 72 hours, you could download my book Lead Without Followers for free on Kindle. Over 570(!) of you took me up on that offer!! Which means that my book’s readership effectively DOUBLED in the span of this one, three-day promotion… I’m beyond thrilled! Thank you for your support.