You’re never too old to learn. People define “lifelong learning” differently. For me it is simply about always being receptive to ongoing opportunities to learn.
I was so fortunate to have been able to take a gap year between high school and college, where I spent the year as a student at the Rossall School, a British boarding school located right on the Irish Sea, adjacent to the Lake District in northern England. In addition to what I believe are the innumerable general benefits of taking a year off between high school and college, for me, where I was and what I was doing had a truly profound and transformative impact on my life. And in the theme of life-long learning, that year continues to teach me important things to this day.
I imagine that many of us are finding ourselves using at least some of this isolation time to reflect and be introspective. I know I certainly am. Absent the frequent interactions with others and their resulting reactions and responses to things I say or do, I have had to instead rely on my own assessment of my behaviors and beliefs. Through this, I’m getting to know me better, without the added input from others. And while I admit that a steady diet of this is not my preference, I am still able to appreciate the benefits this current isolation has for my self-reflection.
As I think back to the 18-year old me, being dropped into the deep-end of British boarding school life, I recall a great deal of my energy was put towards trying to fit in and be accepted. I am hard-pressed to imagine a crueler creature on earth that an adolescent English schoolboy. Almost immediately upon arrival, this became quite obvious to me. For instance, because I wasn’t rail thin, I was soon given the nickname “fat yank.” And one of the particularly cruel boys felt he could get under my skin by constantly bringing up our country’s botched interventions in Vietnam. As if a) I had anything go do with that, and b) that insult would somehow really rile me up. In the animal world, adaptation is the key to survival (I do, after all, consider myself a Darwinist). So I fought fire with fire. An obvious go-to were various references to our successful self-isolation from the crown in the late 1700’s. Equally as effective was the simple reminder to my tormentors that if it weren’t for me (i.e. – my fellow countrymen), we would be having this discussion in German. Eventually I became good friends with these skinny lads.
Now, as I find myself reflecting, I am able to see how a life-long quest to be liked by others has influenced so much of who I have become and my resulting behaviors. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad trait. Though like most things, it’s best in moderation. In tandem with this observation, I have been able to reflect on past events and see more clearly how they also taught me other positive lessons, ones that I am now beginning to appreciate even more.
I now see that the more important lesson I learned or skill that I acquired during that year in England was to develop confidence in myself and my abilities. Hopefully not to a point of over-confidence or arrogance, but rather to a predominantly healthy level. I was very fortunate to have a Housemaster at Rossall who recognized the unique opportunities this year afforded me, to not only experience life at a British boarding school, but to be able to travel and see England. He encouraged and assisted me in planning these trips. Keep in mind, this was the early 80’s, well before the prolific use of computers or existence of mobile phones. All research was through travel books and all plans were made by telephone. (Side note – much of the kidding the world does about England’s various systems is actually justified, including their telephone system of the early 80’s. It was often a real challenge to just to get a call through.) So I happily accepted my Housemaster’s generosity and the opportunity to explore, and arranged and then executed many weekend trips around England. Oxford became a favorite and frequent destination, along with Stratford-Upon-Avon and Cambridge. And of course London was amazing.
While I have readily acknowledged in the past how meaningful this self-confidence trait has been for me in life, it’s only recently that I have been able to see it in a much more positive light. By looking at past events through a new lens, I am becoming more self-aware, better able to appreciate my strengths (and weaknesses), less through the reactions and validations by other, but more through my own self-reflection and appreciation. And for me, this is becoming a game-changer.