This I Believe

John - Southlake, Texas
Entered on September 20, 2006
Age Group: 50 - 65
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This I Believe

I believe life is it’s most rewarding when personal growth is realized through an intense new learning experience.

Today, this belief is most prominently reinforced by my eldest son’s college experience. He’s taking some great classes this term, he’s producing good results and his enthusiasm is downright infectious. There’s little doubt he’s getting a superb opportunity to grow intellectually, socially, and emotionally.

My own response to a similar learning opportunity was total exhilaration. That sensation still resonates through the murky fog of a memory nearly 40 years old. You see, I grew up in a Chicago-area orphanage. Back then; very few of us actually went to college and, for us, Vietnam was the far more likely destination.

At the orphanage, even the admissions process promised heady and hopeful possibilities. Without counseling, I sat for one test and filed one application to a college in a state I never visited. I was stunned and utterly euphoric when the acceptance letter and notice of financial aid arrived.

Later, though still 17, I graduated high school and was released an emancipated minor. With $200, I set off for my rented room near the factory job I found for the summer. Through three endless months of hot, mind-numbing, production-line work, I hoarded all the cash I could.

Finally, the big day arrived. I packed my only suitcase, checked out of my room and bummed a ride to the train station. That journey I breathlessly anticipated promised an entirely new personal reality — one full of limitless possibilities. As I stepped up to the platform and said my final goodbye, I was certain the trip would change my life forever.

Now, decades later, I can say with full conviction that those hopeful personal aspirations have been largely realized. Yet, doing so sounds so linear in life view — so “first you learn, then you work, then you die.”

In the intervening years, I’ve pursued two advanced degrees, completed a few certificate programs, attended professional seminars and training programs and even stumbled through a few evening French classes with my wife. I learned to master several new jobs, to fly an airplane, scuba dive, drive a tractor-trailer, and program a computer. When forced, I’m even loath to admit some stoic but comically fruitless efforts to learn to golf and to dance.

Outcomes aside, each occasion promised a rich new opportunity for self-actualization and, to one degree or another, the prospect for a fresh new start. Even the inevitable stretches in life when learning is limited, by contrast, offers compelling validation.

Now, as a ‘boomer fast approaching traditional retirement age, I’ve come to see that Ken Dychtwald, author of “Age Wave,” is correct — life is cyclic not linear. As that momentous milestone draws near, the prospects of many fresh learning experiences dominate my thoughts. Who knows? There may even now be time for a creative writing class.

Exhilarating, you ask? You bet!

After all, in learning as in life, it’s about the journey not the destination. Don’t you agree?