Learn Voraciously

A friend recently told me that she thought I was much cleverer than her.

Now that is an awkward first sentence to a blog post. In fact, it’s the sort of incident that I would normally try and laugh off as quickly as possible. But this time it was so blatantly untrue that I couldn’t get it out my head, I am definitely not naturally cleverer than her.

On paper she has outdone me at every cleverness test life has put in our way. Whereas I performed mediocre at school and went to a good but not outstanding university, she was exceptional at school and went to Oxford.

So why on earth has she decided five years after graduating that I have somehow overtaken her in the cleverness department?! I think I may have worked out the answer…

After university, she stopped learning.

She decided that she had finished with ‘education’ and was now into the ‘real world’ and ‘working’ stages of life. Her first 21 years had been spent learning the skills, and now it was time for 60 years of implementing them.

Apparently after graduating from university 42% of people never read another book. Ever! [EDIT: This statistic has been shown to be incorrect in the comments]

Now I have no idea how accurate that statistic is, but if it is anywhere near remotely close to the truth, that’s amazing.

University is meant to a place that you choose to go to continue learning. It is higher education, education beyond what is necessary. So why do so many people who have chosen to take that extra step, just stop educating themselves when they graduate?

Maybe they think that education and learning have no place in the real world? I completely disagree. Learning encompasses far more than abstract mathematics and the structural discrepancies in ancient poetry.

  • Want to get a promotion/a new job? Study the industry, networking, your competitors, office politics.
  • Want to start a coffee shop? Study planning legislation, recruitment technique, tax, accounting.
  • Want to invent something? Study the manufacturing process, supply chains, fulfillment centres, patents.
  • Want to write a book? Study writing conventions, publishing options, marketing avenues.
  • Want to master a sport? Study technique, practice drills, mistakes others have made.

I’m not inherently cleverer than anyone, but I do spend as much time as possible learning.

If I’ve overtaken someone who is naturally so much more gifted than myself with just five extra years of education, imagine how much ‘clever’ I’ll be in another 60. I can’t wait!

Whatever your ambitions, I encourage you to always learn voraciously.


Do you spend much time learning? If not why not?

This is a repost from July 2015

  • Rich

    Great post. Interest in learning does seem to drop off once people get to employment.. as if they have done enough to get that job and the rest is easy. I always want to learn something new everyday. It can be anything.. historical fact, who wrote a piece of music etc..

    • Awesome, I love the idea of trying to learn something new everyday

  • This is what I noticed in college graduates as well. Doctors included, especially after the medical residency. Learning is so much fun, why stop? Getting back to science, you may be interested in the concept of ‘neoteny’. Basically this means the preservation of juvenile features and it is used in species that have to reproduce while inhabiting hostile environments – like poor oxygen, little nutrients and so on. As a side note, neoteny itself favors negligible senescence and longevity (check out my book ‘The aging gap between species’ for more on that). But neotenic brains are commonly encountered in the human species too – mostly in artists and entrepreneurs like you who never quit on learning and who maintain an ability to get curious about their external environment.

    • Hi Anca. Thanks! That is very interesting, I’ve never heard of neoteny before but I’ll definitely do some more research. I’ve read a bit about neuroplasticity and the aging process – one of the interesting things from that is that our ability to learn to learn doesn’t diminish that much as we age.

  • aj contreras

    Mate, just found your blog and love it! Great work!

  • This is such great advice, Sam.
    May I recommend that you add a photo and name to the blog? I had to go to Start Here to find out who you are.
    Now following. Thanks for sharing your smarts. Love it.

  • TLay Lay

    Thanks! Great advice:)

  • randcraw

    The Jenkins Group (the source of the quote “42% of college grads never read a book…”) denies making that statement. The factoid arose from a presentation made by the group’s founder, but apparently it was invented out of thin air.

    In contrast, the Pew Trust reported: “72% of adults have read a book within the past year”:


    • Thanks, that’s really interesting. I’ll update the article.

  • #peakbook

  • JFo

    My roommate said something disparaging about learning from books(disclaimer: I get about 15-20 non-fiction books in the mail a month) and realized I didn’t count them as books I had read because I considered them opportunities to learn. I’m also one of ‘those’ people who reads a book more than once. ESPECIALLY if it is non-fiction because I see something I missed every time.

    I don’t know if this is due to my level of experience with what I am reading or if it is simply a matter of focus at a give n time, but I do know that I have never regretted reading something I had never read. I don’t make value statements about a thing until I know something about it and I NEVER approach it as an authority no matter how much I know about it. (This includes software I have written. I like to say I am smart enough to know how much I know nothing about, but I digress)

    For me, I think it is so important to continue reading and approaching things from an open mind. I think that statement woefully falls short of how intently I feel this. I only ever learn when I am willing to listen and accept that there are other perspectives on things, and that my own understanding could do with a shift in perspective due to different experience.


  • Great post, Sam. Reminds me of this great quote from Joi Ito: “Education is what people do to you. Learning is what you do for yourself”. I think that many people slow their rate of learning once they begin working. This is particularly sad in a contemporary world where new industries and skill sets are forming every 5 years or so; so there is actually more need to pick up skills later in life.

    Do you have a go-to way of learning? Do you first read a book? Internet research? What have you found are the best ways to quickly acquire new skills/knowledge?

    • Hey Stevan, thanks a lot! I have quite an adhoc way of learning. I read a lot of books, listen to lots of podcasts and do lots of internet research. Then when I focus in on something I am really interested in I will do a lot more research, take a few lessons and start trying out the skills. I have this idea that the best way to learn something is to tackle it from every angle that is interesting, if one route gets hard/not fun I will move onto another angle. It might not be the best route to expertise, but it keeps me motivated and seems to work for me.

      I actually wrote a book about my experiments trying to learn how to play table tennis: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Expert-Year-Ultimate-Tennis-Challenge/dp/1515184498/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1489844277&sr=8-1&keywords=expert+in+a+year

      And I am still very much learning how to learn!

      • That is a really interesting approach. The best learners certainly find ways to keep things interesting (and fun!). I actually think there is a lot of merit to changing things up if it means you can keep up momentum. I find that momentum and energy are really linked; so positive momentum means you can keep the energy up which is ultimately half the battle of learning.

        • Yes exactly! You’ve explained it much better than I did.