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Life-long learners

Lanterns at Bulguksa Temple

Some of the most interesting travelers are life-long learners.

While taking in the wonders of place, people, and culture on recent trips to Japan, South Korea, and the United Kingdom, I’ve spent time observing my fellow travelers. The reasons for travel vary widely. Some individuals finally have the time and resources to venture to new horizons while others are serious compilers—and completers—of bucket lists.  The reasons are almost as endless as the people joining me in visiting the temples, shrines, gardens, mountains, priories, theatres, museums, and much more along the way.

Life-long learners take a special approach to travel, just as they do in life.  They are curious, to be certain, but most are also risk takers.  In The Leadership Machine, authors Michael Lombardo and Robert Eichinger suggest that learners are “willing to feel and look stupid” because they can admit what they don’t know and are eager to move forward to learn. In the working world they are often the ones willing to “go against the grain of what they know how to do and prefer to do” in order to get better and to learn new skills.

I prefer the description of life-long learners as “sense-makers.”

Among  my fellow travelers, the life-long learners are easy to identify.  They don’t speak up just to look smart. However, the objective and dispassionate questions they do raise are almost always the best ones on the topic.  The life-long learners don’t dominate conversations, but instead seek first to understand before making pronouncements.

We all learn in different ways, yet experiences seem to be a key part of the career path of successful leaders.  From my observations there are multiple ways in which experience teaches.  Life-long learners revel in fresh challenges.  They connect with people.  Hardships don’t faze them, but instead seem to energize them.  They enjoy life.

On this trip, we’re also honoring the learning journeys of our children.  On a quick stop-over in the United States between the Asia and United Kingdom segments, we celebrated our daughter Claire’s graduation with a Masters in Social Work (MSW) from the University of California, Berkeley.  By taking risks, going where she may not be comfortable, and empathizing with people on all levels, Claire has shown me how to work to make sense of life’s quirks, challenges, and opportunities.

CLaire graduation
Our wonderful Claire, now with her MSW degree from the University of California, Berkeley

Upon our arrival in London, we have had the opportunity to visit with our son Andrew—Claire’s twin—who is a masters student in vocal performance at the Royal College of Music.  This is my first visit to London since Andrew moved here for his studies, so I wanted to tour the RCM buildings and get a picture of where he practices, researches, and performs on a regular basis.

Cosi Fan Tutte
Don Alfonso, Guglielmo and Ferrando (l-to-r) – in a 1950s setting of Cosi Fan Tutte – plot to test the faithfulness of their fiancés.

On Saturday we traveled to the wonderful English town of Great Malvern and the Elmslie House, where the Felici Opera Company—with Andrew in the role of Ferrando—performed a delightful English version set in the 1950s of Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte.  We joined in the laughter at the antics of the two young men who agree to a clever ruse to test the faithfulness of their fiancés, while we were simultaneously thrilled at the exquisite melodies of Mozart.  Like Claire, Andrew has shown me how to take risks and follow life’s passions.

Rooftops of Great Malvern
The rooftops of Great Malvern
Great Malvern view
Looking down at Great Malvern from the lower reaches of the Malvern Hills

The fact that the production was in Great Malvern was a special treat.  Home or frequent haunt of some of England’s most accomplished composers, writers, and artists (Sir Edward Elgar, George Bernard Shaw, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien), the town, landscape, and Malvern Hills clearly inspired life-long learning and creativity in many who ventured here.

Asking questions with an openness to new ideas.  Making sense of what we see by dispassionate and deep study.  Inserting “punctuation marks” into our lives to ask “What have we learned this week about…?” All ensure that life simply doesn’t go by as we perform tasks, succeed or make mistakes . . . and learn nothing.  As Lombardo and Eichinger put it:

“Everyone wants to know the secret of success, and there is one.  It’s called continuously learning to do what you don’t know how to do.”

Have a good week.

More to come…


Image: Lanterns holding prayers from the faithful, hanging from the ceiling of a walkway at the Buddhist Bulguksa Temple near Gyeong Ju, South Korea

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