In the recent post “How (and why) to be a lifelong learner” I wrote about how constantly learning new things makes for a rewarding, meaningful life (and retirement).  Lucky for us, we live during a time when it is easier than ever to teach ourselves how to do just about anything.

With that in mind, I announced that I would be doing periodic “30 Day Challenges” where I will learn about something that interests me and then write about it here at the blog.  Hopefully all of you will follow along at home and each month we’ll be able to add something fun and interesting to our “life skills resume” like how to make a great omelet, plan a round-the-world trip or light a fire by rubbing two sticks together (hat tip to my friend Niel for that one).

The first challenge I undertook was to learn all the countries in the world.  To do it I downloaded an app from Brainscape called Learn Geography.  I usually learn best by repetition, so the flashcard format worked well for me.  I also used an app called National Geographic World Atlas and a website called which has quizzes so you can test your level of mastery.

The results?  I did pretty well.  After 30 days I can tell you where just about any country is located.  I still struggle with some of the tiny islands in Oceania (I’m looking at you Tuvalu), but I’ll continue to work on it until I have them down.

What are some of the things I learned as part of this particular challenge?

First, I learned how much of the news actually relates to countries that I know nothing about.  Just for fun one Saturday I read through the Weekend Wall Street Journal and made a list of all the countries mentioned in that day’s news stories.  I didn’t read every article, but here’s a list from those I did read: Turkey, Myanmar, Equatorial Guinea, Afghanistan, Spain, China, United States, Sweden, Switzerland, Mexico, Germany, Ireland, Greece, Portugal, United Kingdom, Scotland, Syria, Japan, Iraq, Pakistan, Brazil, Argentina, Falkland Islands, Peru, Czech Republic, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Poland, Vietnam, Iran, South Korea, North Korea, and El Salvador.  Simply knowing where these countries were located helped me notice stories I probably wouldn’t have otherwise noticed and also gave those stories some context.

Second, I learned it’s fun to do the challenges with someone else.  My friend Mike and the daughter of my friend Kelly did the challenge along with me.  Not only did this provide accountability (nothing motivates you like losing a challenge to a 13 year old), but it was fun to have people to talk to and gain tips and insight from.

Finally, I was reminded of how fun and rewarding it is to learn something new.  Constantly challenging yourself is a great way to keep your life from getting stale and boring.

What’s next?

So what’s the next challenge on the list?  I’ve got two that are on the drawing board.  Since a trip to Paris a few years ago, my wife has wanted to learn how to make croissants.  She and I will start working on that and I’ll let you know in a month how it turns out.

Also, we have a trip scheduled with friends this summer and the guys want to do some scuba diving.  One small complication:  None of us have ever done it before.  Never fear.  We’re talking to a local company called Diventures about getting certified.  That probably won’t come together until sometime in May, however, so I’ll keep you posted.

How about you?

How about you?  Is there anything you’ve always wanted to learn?  Hopefully these posts will be inspiration to start a 30 Day Challenge of your own.  Better yet, email me about what you’d like to do and we can work on it together.

Thanks for reading!  Have a great week.


How to retire now
Free "8 Habits" poster