Lifelong learning

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:40 pm

Frequently with clients, I do a values clarification exercise. One of the values that consistently gets high ranking is lifelong learning.

The second step in this exercise, after identifying core values, is writing an action statement. That is, since this is something you value highly, what are you doing about it?  I’ll often ask, “If your private Martian observed you for one quarter, would he know your values by watching your behavior?” Not infrequently, the answer is no. Then I will ask, “Well, if you aren’t honoring that core value right now, what do you want to do about it?” 

We can tolerate gaps between our core values and our behavior for short periods. For example, our attachment to continuous learning might have to be shelved while we’re going through a business emergency or consumed with a health crisis of some sort. Some values, like integrity, cannot be shelved for even one day without internal repercussions like feeling sick mentally, physically or both. If you place a high value on walking your talk, or speaking your truth, you won’t excuse yourself lightly for pushing that value aside.

All sorts of negative energy — remorse, guilt, anxiety — will remind us that we’re trying to ignore something that defines us, something deep within.

Most everyone does like learning something new, unless that natural tendency got eroded along the line. A lack of success in the classroom can erode it, over time. So can an attachment to being right, to knowing all the answers. In new territory, we have to give ourselves permission to be ignorant, to live in “the beginner’s mind” as Zen masters say.

What seems to get in the way more often is the busy state that so many Americans make the living room of their lives.

•  “I’d love to go to that seminar on economic predictors, but man, there’s no way I’ll free up some time for it.”

•  “I’m working 12-hour days now, just trying to keep ahead of the game. How can I add in a course at the university?”

•  “I send my top managers to a week-long inspirational training every year while I stay back and try to keep the office running.”

•  “See that pile of business management books over there. When am I going to get to even one of them?”

•  “I try to read something new every night, but I’m so exhausted I fall asleep after 10 minutes.”

One of my new offerings is “Retirement Con Brio.” In planning a creative, energetic retirement, most clients want to include learning new stuff. It might be a new job, new sport, new language, new business or building a log cabin — who knows? The most fulfilled retirees actually do engage in these kinds of activities, which they find rewarding and fun.

So I say why wait until retirement? The world of business is constantly changing, and we need to grab onto that merry-go-round through learning from whatever resources we can find. Also, extra-curricular learning, i.e. learning outside of keeping up with your own industry, can stimulate your mind and creativity. Some of my executive clients are learning Chinese — for fun they say. It may be difficult to identify with that!

There is an endless list of choices though, of new pursuits. One or two is bound to pique your interest. If you hold learning as a priority and take the necessary steps to venture into some new field altogether, your mind and spirit will bring extra energy back into your daily life, I do believe.

It might be yoga, it might be knitting, it might be American History, it might be belly dancing — that won’t matter as long as you have an inkling you’ll like it and give it a chance. If you have kids, they might have a skill or interest they’d love to share with you. This reversal of roles can be refreshing to both and good nourishment for your relationship. (There are several electronic devices that would still be sitting in their boxes were it not for the tutelage of my children and grandchildren.) 

If you list lifelong learning as one of your core values, I urge you to give some thought and action toward honoring that value. I hold it essential that we keep learning about our work — and wouldn’t it be boring if we didn’t? For spice, consider opening the door to some lifelong interest that has always been shoved to the back burner. Your brain will like exploring new pathways.

You will probably become an even more interesting person. You will command more respect as a leader. You will meet some new people who may become lifelong friends. You will feel younger. There are very likely even more rewards, but I trust this list is enticing enough.

And now it’s time for my Tai Chi class. I look forward to hearing what you have learned lately.

Jo Hawkins Donovan has a coaching and psychotherapy firm in Whitefish Bay. She can be reached at (414) 332-0300 or at The firm’s Web site is

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