Have a look at this link: http://www.catb.org/esr/faqs/hacker-howto.html
For some people, programming is simply a small part of a lifestyle. And if you believe that, yes, programming is a life long experience.
As for my point of view, programming is like learning to play an instrument. in about 1-5 years, you are good enough to play (program) just about anything.
But true mastery of the instrument (programming language) takes years, and is never fully complete. You continue to learn and develop for the rest of your life.
There are no shortcuts, no secrets if you will, that will give you mastery of programming.
But if you are willing to spend the time, your life can be augmented by your dedication to learning a language.
Much like the enjoyment you can receive from learning an instrument.