Taking to the Road: a Journey in Lifelong Learning

By the time you read this, I should be on my way to Business School Netherlands to attend the second batch of classroom sessions. As you may know, I am working towards my MBA. There are days, as a 67-year-old, that I sometimes wonder why I took on such a challenge! However, I am having fun.

I do not have to tell you that the world is changing at an ever-increasing speed. I need – and want – to keep up! Moreover, there is a difference between the two. As a young child, learning is spontaneous and joy. You learn to play, and you play to learn. I think that for me, at least as far as learning is concerned, the pop psychology adage of as we age we become more like children holds. At my age I care less about what others think. I am less interested in doing what others expect of me. I am aware of what I know and what I don’t know. I am more interested in my happiness. Learning, now, is a choice.

Lifelong learning unpacked

According to Wikipedia, lifelong learning is the “ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated” pursuit of knowledge for either personal or professional reasons. Therefore, it not only enhances social inclusion, active citizenship, and personal development, but also self-sustainability, as well as competitiveness and employability.

The personal benefits

Social inclusion

As we age, we tend to get out less. This may be due to mobility and health issues. However, we also don’t have the responsibilities that took us outside before. Our children can drive themselves around and often move far away. We do not have to sit through school plays and hockey matches. We may not be as involved in the world of work. This sounds like bliss when you are trying to coordinate your family schedule. However, it connected you to other people and gives you a sense of purpose. Though the first year without it may be heavenly, it can also make you feel really lonely.

Whilst we were dealing with the busy-ness of life, most of us stuffed some of our passions into a box and put it in storage, to be opened Maybe One Day… Do you even remember what these were? Now may well be the time to open the attic and dust these off. Such explorations can be so much more enjoyable, if it is shared with others who are like-minded.

Active citizenship

Western society emphasises getting ahead at all costs. You are meant to fearlessly forge a future, to look after yourself and your nearest and dearest. As we grow older and have more time on our hands, we can look up and see the world around us more clearly.

From middle-age onwards, Erickson, the great developmental psychologist, says our developmental task shifts to one of embracing generosity – to becoming leaders and teachers, to share our knowledge (both formal and informal) with the next generation. What are you doing to contribute to the causes that make your heart beat faster? Acquiring the skills to effectively throw your weight behind a cause is right for you as well as for others.

Personal development

With the fantastic innovations in health care, we have been gifted with more years to breathe. However, medicine can keep you alive, but it cannot necessarily make you thrive. According to the Canadian Alzheimer’s Society, it is estimated that more than a million Canadians will suffer from Alzheimer’s diseases by 2030. More and more, researchers are suggesting that exercising the brain may preserve it, forestalling mental decline.

Lifelong learning does not have to be formal. Informal activities and interests that stretch the intellect do not only keep you mentally fit, but also makes you a much more interesting person, which, of course, makes people more likely to want to spend time with you!

The professional benefits

Self-sustainability

A cursory Google search throws up countless articles on extinct or disappearing professions. Do you remember the milkman and switchboard operators? For your amusement, look up what a (soda) jerk did for a living.

All jokes aside, it isn’t just older people that should embrace lifelong learning. Increasingly, people need to reskill mid-career. Jobs that were considered ‘safe’ are no longer that. This include bookkeepers, GP’s and even traditional financial advisors!

Competitiveness

Now rest assured, I am not studying to become a road engineer. (I do have strong ideas about that, though!) I am embracing the changes in the financial services field – I am learning how better to deal with the digital revolution and how to navigate the new ways in which businesses are disrupted by this. I am studying strategies to manage the shifting macro and microeconomic climate. I do so, so that I can provide you, dear client, with relevant advice in navigating these, and other, new realities.

Employability

Introduce the concept of lifelong learning to your children early on. We need to prepare those who come after us with what is referred to as ‘meta-skills’ in terms of learning:

  • How to learn (learning methods catering for different learning styles)
  • How to access information and multiple learning opportunities
  • How to transfer what has been learnt in one context to another
  • How to solve problems through creative thinking
  • How to read different contexts
  • How to work cooperatively with people who are different from us

However, above all, don’t fall into the trap of feeling you are no longer useful.

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