Mark Ballard

Here’s how to become smarter as you age

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How much information can a single mind hold? How much knowledge can it retain? I’m not sure any of us know the answer to these questions. What I do know is I want to use my time on this earth to learn as much as I can.

When I was younger, I didn’t always like the process of learning. In fact, I hated memorizing anything. I also wasn’t fond of world history, mathematics and science. I looked at school as a passage you went through on your way to adulthood. Way back then I thought I had to be in a classroom in order to learn something. Boy was I wrong! It is after you become an adult that the learning really begins.

Life itself is a huge textbook. Each day brings unlimited opportunities for learning. If we are lucky, we will continue to learn something new until we take our last breath. Many times, it is the mistakes we make in life that teach us the most. The missteps and wrong turns are the very ones that lead us to other lessons. When we arrive at those new places, we can turn the page and begin completely new chapters in our lives. If we are wise, we use setbacks to learn.

The older I become, the more I learn — with age comes wisdom. Maybe that’s the reason I’ve always loved being around people older than me. People who have experienced more years are always in better positions to offer more knowledge. They bring with them the excellent advice they have gathered on their journey through life. Older people have so much to say if we are willing to listen.

A few years ago when I decided to teach drawing classes, I never realized I would be the one who learned the most. When you gather a group of creative people from all age groups and walks of life into one space and arm them with pencils, pads and memories, there are no limits to the lessons you can learn.

At one of my first classes, I met an older lady who had had many adventures in her life. She had traveled to faraway places and witnessed innumerable things. As we drew, she took the class down all kinds of roads through exciting memories. It was fascinating to listen to her describe the things she had learned in her life. The thing that resonated with me the most was how much she enjoyed every aspect of her life without regret. She told us she never looked back.

Recently I received a call from another lady in her 80s. She was interested in taking my latest introduction to drawing class. I was so impressed with her. She had yearned to take drawing classes her entire life. Many of her family members showed talent and they encouraged her. She signed up and couldn’t wait to begin.

Imagine my surprise when she bounded into my classroom looking at least a decade younger than she is. With an open mind and a free spirit, she is just another example of how continuing to learn is the magical water of the fountain of youth.

It goes back to the old saying, “You are never too old to learn.” I’ve seen first-hand how this process works — not only in my classes, but also with my older friends. They are living examples of the benefits of becoming smarter as you age. As a result, I’ve decided to use each day as a way to learn something new.

I recently had the opportunity to speak at Wesleyan College to a group of older adults in a continuing education program. They were bright and eager to listen to my journey as a professional artist. Just like in any class, regardless of whether you are the teacher or the student, everyone leaves the room with more than they brought.

When you keep an open mind and an eagerness to learn, you welcome new growth that equals knowledge. That knowledge enlightens us. Our minds are like sponges. The more it soaks in, the more it wants to absorb. And as a plus, you get the added advantage of staying young!

Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions or comments to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; call 478-757-6877; email; follow him at; or become a subscriber to Mark’s Facebook page.