“Live as if you were to die tomorrow; learn as if you were to live forever.” That quote was commonly attributed to Mahatma Gandhi.
If you knew you were to die tomorrow, how would you live your very last day? Would you still follow your daily routine or go off the beaten path? Would you spend the day with your family and close friends? Would you try to make things right with them and bless them, or would you rather settle the score and make sure you have the last word?
Live as if you were to die tomorrow; learn as if you were to live forever.
Conversely, you probably would not start learning a new language nor commit to anything long term, if you could foresee your imminent demise. Often, people stop learning when they reach a ripe old age. At this point we must turn our attention to the second half of the quote.
We admire late bloomers, people who achieve something worthwhile at a later than usual age. We speak of them as if they are of a special breed and perhaps have a superior genetic makeup. In reality, we can acquire new skills, scale new heights, and develop new interests whether we are 81 or 18.
Let's take language learning as an example. (The same principle applies to other life endeavors such as running a marathon, learning to play the piano, etc.) If we take a pure investment perspective, it is true that the earlier you start learning, the less effort it will take, and the longer you have to enjoy the benefits. But, language learning is a journey: the path you take to reach the destination is as important and sometimes even more enjoyable than crossing the finish line. In fact, there is no finish line to cross per se in learning a language.
So, the next time you are tempted to turn your back on doing something new, interesting, and worthwhile, remember that when it comes to learning, you have the whole eternity before you to achieve whatever you set out to achieve, and to take delight in the journey as well as the destination of it all.
What are you still waiting for?