I believe in lifelong learning. This has been one of the few constants in my life, as I have moved through different chapters. I had the benefit of a formal education in a good public school system, followed by college and graduate school. However, my experience with lifelong learning, as I perceive it, began during my junior year in college.
I was a French major enrolled in a study abroad program at the University in the Alsace region of France. I had had five years of French in high school followed by four more semesters in college. This, I was sure, adequately prepared me for my year of studies in France. That is, until I met the lady with whom I would be living for the next year, Annie. Although she claimed to be a ballet teacher, I was convinced that she was a French auctioneer; such was the rate of her speech. To my pleasant surprise, after a few weeks, I could understand and even converse with her.
My relationship with lifelong learning continued into my work life, particularly when I switched careers from teaching to fundraising. When I took my first job as a grant writer, I had no idea what a grant was never mind how to write one. I had to learn on the job how to translate a program description into a compelling proposal for support. Goals, objectives, outcomes and evaluative measures are now integral parts of my daily vocabulary.
While education and work provide various opportunities for learning and training, it is most frequently life itself that teaches us the most important lessons. My brief marriage taught me more about myself, my upbringing, and my relationships than anything I ever could have learned in school. That experience, along with the counseling I went through during my divorce, changed my life, and prepared me to face the challenges ahead with a greater sense of confidence and wisdom. In many ways, it was the best thing that could have happened to me.
The seemingly endless sources of information available today make it easy to learn about any topic imaginable. Books serve as handy, portable instructors, and, in the case of fiction, allow readers to escape into another world. “What is your favorite book?” This is a difficult question for me to answer. As an avid reader of non-fiction, I might think of Marilu Henner’s “Total Health Makeover”, or the biography of Maria Callas. When it comes to fiction, my favorite genre is fantasy, including series such as “The Chronicles of Narnia” and “The Lord of the Rings.” Although set in mythical lands with fantastic creatures and magical powers, these stories teach us important lessons for our lives. As Gandalf tells Frodo in “The Fellowship of the Ring,” “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” I choose to use my time to learn.
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