Lifelong learning is the ongoing, voluntary and self-motivated pursuit of knowledge that enhances social skills, personal development, and self-sustainability without competitiveness normally associated with education in school and work. The term evolved about 50 years ago from a group of Denmark educators who realized that learning can no longer be limited to just the time spent in school or at work. Instead, lifelong learning is something that takes place on an ongoing basis from our daily interactions with others and the world around us.
I was introduced to this term when I was 28 years old, over 30 years ago by a man who was my mentor for years, a large intimidating gruff sort of guy that overpowered the world around him with his large physical presence and very serious personality.
I was a young woman with two small boys, one of which was profoundly, mentally retarded, a label that would eventually bring his death at 29 years of age. But at only two years, he looked like a normal, happy little boy that just starting staying awake for six weeks at a time….24 hours a day….softly shaking his head and moaning all night long while his older brother slept near by. After six months of this, it became apparent that I needed to move to a large city that could provide early intervention education that could help him.
So this little family of one scared, lonely mother with her 4 1/2 year old son and her 2 year old troubled little toddler, almost exactly the same age as my little grandchildren are now, moved two hours away from all family and friends and started a new life in St. Louis, Missouri. I found a job at an investment company and an apartment 30 minutes away near Good Shepherd School, a place that would solve all my little boy’s problems. After going through two extensive rounds of interviews over a month, and a 2 hour physcological test that showed I was too naive to work in this high stress business, I was hired.
That was the easy part. I had to make sure that the boys were at school on time and that I was always early and on-time. With no family or friends, I just made sure and set double alarms and we did it every day sometimes more challenging than others. Two weeks into our new life, we were asked to leave the pre-school due to my youngest son’s disability, they just couldn’t handle his soft, but constant moaning. The next daycare wasn’t as bright and shining, but it was filled with loving people that embraced both my boys.
The job was so intense that it took my breath away. It was a whirlwind of constant activity, everyone in their stiff business suits, including the women, learning how to use a “personal computer” which had just come out publicly that year. This was the world of the newest, fastest leading edge technology. Money was no limit, and the investment firm had Visicalc, the early spreadsheet software that would be replaced by Excel in the late 80’s. Excel became THE spreadsheet software that replaced the green ledgers of the accounting world and changed the business and finance world forever. It moved away from the CPA world of only analyzing past results and moved into a new frontier of “what if” possibilities. Over time, the owner of the company knew that I had the ability to learn quickly, I was like a sponge and wanted to learn everything he threw at me. He introduced me to the concept of “visualizing numbers”, to not be limited to the customary “2 + 2 equals 4” concept, and to see beyond what was right in front of me. Be open to lifelong learning.
I never finished my accounting and finance degree, life got in the way and I had to raise those little boys. Ten years later, I realized that I had been given an amazing opportunity to work with a man named Tom Phelps who opened my eyes to all the professional work possibilities that life could ever give you. These skills have served me well over the years, working as an independent strategic planning coach for over 50 types of businesses and a nonprofit school in Carbondale, Illinois, which was the most successful of them all. i have told people all my life, that this school succeeded because it had the right combination of passion, from the director, Rich Collins, leadership, from my long-time mentors Tom Phelps and Bill Purdon, and financial vision which I provided. This college preparatory school for children with learning disabilities is thriving today as a result of a slow, pain staking effort of all the above people, and the faculty, staff and thousands of parents along the way, that were willing to mortgage their house if it would help their child. No wonder I loved it, I felt the same way about my little boy.
That little boy never grew up, a 4 month old baby trapped in a 29 year old body, that died 4 years ago after a really long life of daily struggles. He never walked or talked, had to be fed, diapered and could barely walk. Never able to enjoy any sensations, other than he like McDonald’s Quarter Pounder’s and heavy rock music. Every few months when I visited him during his 20 years in a group home, we always went for rides that included both of these things. His cause of death was simply that if you don’t use your brain, your body cannot thrive. A simple explanation for a life filled with questions about what caused this horrible thing to happen to my son Justin.
I have been a life long learner every day of my life. When my husband and I sold our doggy daycare business a year ago, I eventually went into the deepest, darkest hole of depression that I have ever experienced. I just never get depressed, my desire to go out into the world is so great, that I have a hard time sitting at home, idly doing nothing. Why I thought I could “retire early” was stupid and a very bad idea.
Things improved when we came to Phoenix for the winter, back about three months ago, but my life took a turn about a week ago when I walked through the doors of local Mazda dealer and bought my cute little red Mazda 3. This dealership is part of a family Christian business with locations in California and Arizona. I had the good fortune of driving by that day, pulled in at the last moment and was helped by a kind young man who helped me out of a tough situation since my own car was still in Denver and I couldn’t go and get it due to my recent sleep apnea, a result of some of the strange side effects of a successful surgery. I drove off two days later, my “joy meter” filled to the max, and my trade-in is still sitting in my Denver garage today, May 24!
Recognizing that my joy meter was a bit overflowing, the general manager asked if I wanted to work part-time selling cars. I jumped at the chance and am now being mentored by their entire staff in everything from how to sell a car to housekeeping. The dealership is full of passion, driven by their energetic general manager, quiet leadership from their new floor manager and now financial vision, provided by me. I will also develop their internal mission and vision so that customers and new employees will know that this company truly is a family Christian business that wants what is best for the customer, while making a profit.
The owner of the company, Joe Cardinale, is so passionate about his business that he encourages his general managers to contribute part of the company profit to local non-profit organizations and I hope to find these types of businesses in our community.
Do not ever stop learning every day of your life or you will slowly forget to breath.