Making Your Brain Happy – My Learning for Pleasure Journey

I meet wonderful and talented people from all over the world, both through my day job as a recruiter and through volunteering for Women in Localization.

We have all been through some very tough times over the last three years, physically, mentally and socially, myself included.

During this time I stumbled upon a way to make my brain happy – or at least a lot happier – through learning for pleasure. This made me reflect on learning from the perspective of both our personal and professional lives, and I would love to share some of my thoughts, experiences and observations with you.

At the beginning of the first lockdown, I gave myself the birthday present of an online course in garden design and plant knowledge, something that I have always been genuinely interested in. I needed a new hobby that was very much home-based (and I was running out of interesting things to watch on the telly).

Suddenly, I found myself happily reading book after book, lesson after lesson, hour after hour in my spare time, about where different plants thrive, how to organise them, and not least about different designers. I couldn’t get enough. And it helped stave off both boredom and depression during what could have been an utterly miserable time. 

Now, I can talk for Norway about Gertrude Jekyll, the first British “lady garden designer” from the Arts & Crafts movement in the late 1800s to the 1930s, and her then-revolutionary concept of “painting with plants”.

When it seems like there isn’t enough positivity to go around, you need a trump card – something that will make your brain feel better no matter what. And I really believe that learning is one of the best solutions. 

Of course, this isn’t my discovery – science has long proved that learning and curiosity are vital to happiness, improve decision-making skills, and have positive effects on social bonding and memory. But it’s not just about taking courses and gaining certificates. It’s also about why and how you learn.

As professionals, we often focus on the learning that will improve our credentials, help us to gain promotions and impress recruiters. And this is, of course, very important. But it’s key to strike the balance between what you need to know and what you want to know and are interested in.

And learning isn’t solely good for you as an individual. Curiosity is one of the most valuable traits you can have. Learners ask questions and shape and direct ideas. They’re essential to preventing stagnation. 

My learning journey

My learning journey began traditionally, in the education system. I started school at seven and left university in my mid-twenties. That’s a long time. After almost two decades of continuous education, it can be easy to fall out of love with learning, and I gradually had to reshape my relationship with it. 

In terms of my personal history in localization, in the early 1980s, I was part of a small translation agency in Kristiansand in Norway, translating material about computers and programming for a large publishing company. We had never heard of programming. Computers were completely unknown to us – we had thought we were spearheading the technological revolution with our electric typewriters, and word processing was just coming onto the market.

But since I wanted to make money to bump up my student loan (necessity) and to afford nice shoes now and then (pleasure), I went and asked around in the few computer shops in the town, including one that sold games (on cassettes!) and learned a bit about terminology and technologies. 

Most importantly, I had a great proofreader who would review my work – the early edits were so full of red ink they looked like lingonberry fields. But his first comment was “You are a good translator” (bless him). And he helped me to learn and gave me the confidence to improve. Eventually, and am so proud of this: one of my translations of a children’s book about learning to program in BASIC got a really positive review in a magazine. Because I discovered that I could actually understand programming, and use a computer (an Osborne Junior with floppy disks!).

Who would have thought that a fondness for nice shoes could drive you to learn such things?

My learning has both shaped my career and been shaped by it. It’s been proven that people are better at learning information that they are curious about. And what you are interested in might change over time – for instance, when I studied psychometrics, which I thought could be useful for work, it completely hooked me. Psychometrics provides me with a deeper understanding and a firmer context for the things I learned in the many management courses I’ve taken. I’d already grasped the ‘what’, but now I understand the ‘why’. 

Learn to earn

Of course, learning for your work and career is vital. During my career, I did a fair few training courses organised by the companies I worked for. And I didn’t hate them, but they didn’t make my brain particularly happy either. At one point, though, I did a course in recruitment. I loved it so much that I started to volunteer to help everyone in my broader team with recruitment. And now, thirty years later, I have a recruitment company where I get to do what I love every day. So it’s not that everything you learn should necessarily interest you from the get-go, but by being open to learning, you learn more about yourself and your natural strengths and interests.

Learning also just looks good to recruiters and employers. It would be disingenuous to pretend that this isn’t a key reason to keep learning. By being able to add for instance tools, technologies, languages, methodologies or interesting hobbies to your CV, you are more likely to stand out from other candidates. So, once you’ve completed your learning, whether it’s work-related or not – add it to your LinkedIn profile and stick it on your CV.

So whether learning for work or pleasure, let’s go and make our brains happy! And the rest will follow.

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