what is the best age to start learning?

Children amaze me…

A few short years ago, my son was tiny. He could barely walk, drooled constantly, always wanted to be near me, and his sentences consisted of one or two words.

Today, it’s a whole other story.

In less than a week, he’ll be celebrating his sixth birthday and the transformation he has undergone is nothing short of incredible.

He is picking up both Japanese and English at an alarming rate. He has started voicing his own opinions about everything. He has won two Karate competitions and came in second in a third. He is also #1 in his class in swimming and swam 75m the other day (with a one-minute break in-between laps).

And to think, he’s 5.

I shudder to think just what he’ll be able to accomplish if he continues on this path. The key word being, “If.”

Learning has consumed my entire adult life; first as an English teacher, now as a high-performance coach. I seem to have a talent for seeing just what people are capable of; their full potential. Then all I have to do is help them realize it.

When I meet a client for the first time, we’re both sizing one another up. They want to know if I’ll be able to help them, and I’m trying to see:

  1. What they REALLY need help with (people don’t often tell you the truth)
  2. What kind of character they have (as I expect a lot out of my clients so I want to see if we’ll be a match)

In my experience, people fall into one of four groups. There’s the high performers, the average performers, the underperformers and the non-performers. Just like in school.

Naturally, due to our age and different life experiences, we’re at different stages of our development. That’s why in the book, The 4-Minute Manager, Ken Blanchard explains the importance of coming up, or down, to the level of the person you’re talking to, rather than treating everyone equally.

Despite the discrepancy, soon after it becomes quite clear which group of performer we belong to.

  • The high performers, regardless of their ability, will work hard. They will go the extra mile. They will fight through adversity. They won’t accept no as an answer. And last, but not least, they won’t give up.
  • Average performers, on the other hand, lack the key ingredient to fast learning: passion. They will improve slowly and steadily, but without finding a reason to keep studying, some of them will lose interest or get side-tracked.
  • Underperformers could be much better, but lack conviction. They will stay a whileand who knows.
  • Non-performers sometimes talk a big game, but their true character comes out soon enough.

Here’s the thing though. Anyone CAN succeed. It’s not a question of ability. It’s simply a question of will they?

The other day, I posed a question to some clients – “What age do we learn best?”

The answers were all over the board.

Some went with children around my son’s age with their sponge-like mind. Some chose teenagers because they are mature and understand how to study. My answer was this: It doesn’t really make much difference what age you are. What matters is how much desire they have!

Think about little children, why is it that they learn so quickly? Because of their desire to play with their friends, to enjoy TV, to have fun, to be better, to win. Their weakness though is also their greatest strength: they are still young.

Teenagers that have a desire to achieve something are hard to stop. They have time on their side and the knowledge with which to apply themselves. Their weakness is they are immature and easily influenced by their peers, and sometimes let themselves be led astray.

But if I had to give an answer as to what age is the best to start learning, I’d choose someone in their 20s. Just like basketball players who reach their prime around the age 28, I believe that people in their 20s have been through various trials and tribulations. They have been hurt and know what they want and don’t want. If they have a passion for something, they will devote nearly every waking moment to it.

I use myself as an example. As a young child, I didn’t want to study, but boy, did I love to play. In my teens, I studied what I liked, and found a way to get the grades I needed in subjects I didn’t. However, all I really wanted to do was hang out with my friends or watch movies.

But when I was 19 everything changed because I wanted to learn Japanese, so I did.

Then again at 24, rock climbing became my life. Unfortunately, a broken finger and financial troubles prevented me from continuing this further.

At 32, I made a decision to learn magic. 2 hours a day for a year and a half. My hard work paid off.

But it wasn’t till I was 34 that I found my true calling. Magic was fun, and I still do it from time to time, but what I really wanted to learn was how to help people live a better life. Since that time I have devoted between two and four hours a day to unlocking the secrets of success (time management, philosophy, marketing, and finance) and I love every minute of it.

Age might be on my son’s side, but one’s desire to learn determines our success more than any other factor I can find.

Good teachers help, family help, discipline helps, good materials helpbut passion, in my opinion, is the difference maker; it separates the winners from the losers. Winners never give in. Winners find a way. Losers don’t.

No matter what age we are right now, we are the youngest we will ever be.

We can’t get more time. We only get so much. But passion, that’s up to us.

Don’t let the devil on your shoulder talk you out of going for what you want simply because it’s too hard, you’re not good enough or you’re not young enough.

I started learning Karate at the age of 39, and later this year (with any luck), I’ll have a brown belt. Just one step away achieving a dream I had as a child: a black belt.

Passion, you control it. Use it.

Adrian Shepherd

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