1. Learning is not equal to school.
I didn't really care too much for "liberal arts" school. I went because I got to see my friends mostly, and I enjoyed doing my best to get adequate marks, but I was never excited about it early on. Once I got into college and started learning design and things that I truly cared about, was passionate about, and truly wanted to learn more of, I loved school. I loved school because I was learning. Sure even in college I had the "jump through these hoops" classes that I endured only because I had to, but I longed for the classes I wanted to learn the subject in. In no other part of your life are you able to be a full-time learner. Don't miss the chance, especially when it's something you want to potentially spend the rest of your life doing.
2. Never stop.
This sounds stupid, but I learned more out of college than I learned in college regarding creative work and design. At my alma mater's design program you couldn't walk into the program as a blank slate and walk out as a graphics professional, you had to work your butt off and go above and beyond the call of the assignments. I had to learn a lot outside of class, not necessarily to fulfill the lowball assignment, but to become a good designer. I read countless books on principle, layout, grids, proportion, color theory, etc all of which helped shaped my lenses of design. I still do this today, I am ever evolving as a designer and I look at work I did a year ago, 6 months ago, even 2 months ago, and I see where I could have improved it. Some of it I'm too embarrassed to even show on this site. I'm continually learning, expanding, and gleaning knowledge from those who have gone before me. All the things you learn are placed ever so gently in your mind's quiver to be summoned when the proper problem arises. Keep learning, don't ever stop.
3. Stretch yourself.
I'm almost never bored. I say almost because there have definitely been projects that are boring, but regarding my free time, I am never bored. I love seeing what others are creating on sites like Dribbble, Forrst, Flickr, FFFFound, Designspiration, and learning how their work can help shape mine. I've even taken pieces I've seen, whether just abstracts, typesettings, or interfaces and tried to recreate them just to learn how they work and attempting their style.
Go through tutorials, learn abilities, continually learn design principles, study user experience, think through the eyes of the laziest person you know and ask "Would I want to look at this piece? Would I want to use this software?" If the answer is no, you've got more to learn and you need to be stretched. No one is going to do it for you, be self-motivated. Learn, this is YOUR LIFE, make something of it because no one is going to do it for you.
Take criticism from people that will tell you the truth. This sucks, but nothing makes you better more quickly than hearing what to do from someone who has been where you are and has excelled past it. Ask for feedback all the time and not just at the end of project, but throughout the process.
4. Learning is not like riding a bike.
I used to be decent at Algebra, I used to tear up some geometry, I knew a lot about biology, I even used to know a lot of spanish. However, other than the occasional algebra and geometry for layout design, I don't use any of that now other than when I catch an episode of Jeopardy on TV. It's out of my mind. I'm sure if I had to re-pick it back up I could relearn it quicker this time, but google even has made me lazy and if I can't figure it out in 10 or so seconds, to google I go.
Keep using the skills you've acquired overtime. Apply them to things, projects, side projects, doodles, something. Else, you'll lose them.
5. Principles are more valuable than technique (at first).
Let me explain. You can learn how to play chopsticks on the piano and if you play it over and over and over again you'll get really good at it. Heck you could do the same with The Entertainer, or Flight of the Bumblebee. You would get great at that one thing. But, if you learned all the interworkings of how music works, how notes relate to one another, the various measurements of timing and what they represent, and understood the why of how those songs work, you could essentially learn to play any song simply by understanding music, instead of just memorizing a song.
Bowlers are good at one thing: knocking down 10 pins over and over and over again. On the other hand Jazz musicians are good because they know their instrument so well, they can play anything, and it can be different overtime and still sound incredible. They know the theory and principles of music, not just a technique.
Be a jazz musician, don't just be a bowler.
6. Don't cut corners.
This one is simple, if you skip steps in the learning process you're only cheating yourself. Learn the why of how things work, understand each step and why it's necessary. Don't be lazy and say "that'll do" when really it is something you'll have to apologize for. Be excellent, give your very best, and then try to outdo yourself. In design work it never returns void. Even if people don't understand why something is better necessarily, they'll be able to feel that it is. Jim Collins said "Good is the enemy of Great". Don't let good enough keep you from achieving greatness, do great work.
7. Be passionate.
Now you're probably asking yourself "Why would I want to put in all that extra work for that little extra bit of return"? To that I say, "You don't get it". You need to be passionate to put in that extra 11% to take something from good to great. It won't just happen, it won't come easy, you'll never have enough time, and there will always be something that goes wrong at first. Push through, keep the goal and vision in mind as you strive towards the finish of your project with excellence. You'll be so glad you did.
8. Experiment. A lot.
This is something that I thought I didn't need to do independently. I use to think "Oh I'll try this new idea in this project and see what happens as I go along". BAD IDEA. Most of the time you don't know what you're doing, you're in uncharted water, and you'll waste a lot of time on something that could have taken you a tenth of the time but you wanted to "try something new". Experiment outside of projects for pay or for grades. Experiment on things that don't matter, or in personal projects. Once you've done that and worked out the kinks, then apply what you've learned in a project, don't learn in projects, because it will backfire, I promise.
9. Share what you learn.
If someone can replicate your idea exactly if you distribute it, it probably wasn't the most original idea anyway. Share your knowledge, be transparent, share your mistakes, and contribute to a design community. We're all learning together on this one, and giving away your ideas at it's very minimum is motivation to continually come up with new ones to stay ahead. I'm sure you've benefitted from some resource that some others have given away, give back.
10. Stop reading about doing and do.
This one is a bonus, and as the last one it is a challenge. Stop reading about what you should do and just go do something. Find some junk and make a hokey sculpture, go through some tutorials on the Envato Network. Go copy a shot of Dribbble just to see if you can do it and then see if you can improve on it. Learn forever, and start now.
[box]Well that's all I have for now, but what have I forgotten? What would you add to this list? What have you learned about learning? (Now is your chance to exercise #9).[/box]