September 24 – The (hopefully) unquenchable thirst for lifelong learning

September 24. “Learning is not compulsory…neither is survival.” (W. Edwards Deming)

I consider myself to be a lifelong learner. That term may seem a bit tired, as so many people lay claim to the mantle, so I thought I’d talk a bit about what it means to me, and why it isn’t trite in my life. I have always been blessed with a strong curiosity. At an early age that curiosity was developed into a desire and thirst for learning. As a pre-adolescent, I can recall spending hours after school at the public library looking through books on a wide variety of topics. I would bring home books about weather and clouds, rocks and minerals, funny signs, how to play chess, and so on. Some of the books sparked a longer-term interest for me, while others (like learning to play chess), were temporary interests that faded away.

As a young teen my god parents took me mother and I out for long rides in the country on many Sundays. Frequently these rides included stops at sites of historical interest in Ohio. I could have allowed myself to be a typical adolescent, and sulked at being dragged along on these adventures. But, between the watchful eyes of the adults who wouldn’t tolerate an attitude, and my own intense curiosity, I ended up fully engaging in the stories of the sites. I became quite interested in the history of Ohio. Those Sunday rides have evolved into the adventures that I love to take with my family and friends to this day.

When I became interested in lighthouses, I didn’t stop at just locating them on a map and visiting them. I also became interested in their place in history, and in the thousands of stories that surrounded them. I enjoy reading stories of the heroism of the light keepers and the rescue crews, and of what life at the light was like in the 19th century.

This year, as I have embarked on my journey to better health, I have employed that curiosity to help me learn more about the food I eat, the exercise I do, and the effects of my weight loss on my overall health.

In the past few weeks, as I have been working my way through a home improvement project that seems to be taking forever, I have employed my curiosity to learn about paints, floor cleaners, hanging doors, cutting moldings, hanging blinds properly and so on. This project wouldn’t be as far along as it is without both my wife and I taking the time to learn as we have worked together.

I should say, as I am writing all of this, that I am not an expert in any of the things I’ve just described. My interest and knowledge in many of these topics runs only a few inches deep, compared to the vast depths that each topic holds. My curiosity will take me to many places. At each place I stay a while to get an understanding and a feel for the topic, then I am off to some new interest. What is important to me is that the flame of curiosity is always burning within me.

So, how does all this relate to the quote of the day? What does my life long curiosity, and my interest in learning relate to my survival? Dr. Demings was considered an expert in how companies could grow, survive and thrive by paying attention to the details, and adopting high standards for process and product quality. In the 1990s many automobile manufacturers studied and adopted his principles, and they are still in practice today. Many of the companies that studied and adopted his methods were decades old, and had become entrenched in their ways of doing things. For them to survive and grow, they had to take on great change, as an organization they had to learn and adapt, or face the closing of their businesses. Some did and are healthy today. Others did not and their names are mere memories.

As I sit here and ponder this quote, it’s hard for me to envision what a life without learning would be. Because I have always placed a high value on my personal learning, it has always been a part of my life.

I think that the best I can do to look at this answer is to look at my own health, and my journey to improving upon it. I grew up in a house where meat and potatoes were the staple, where fried foods were the norm, where vegetables were usually cooked to mush. Among my immediate family I am the only person who never, ever smoked a cigarette. Most in my family had a pack-a-day habit, and ash trays were a key part of our décor. Had I blindly accepted that way of life, and that diet, I wouldn’t be the healthy person I am today. Even at my heaviest back in February, I still had many positives working for me in my health. My heart is strong and my blood pressure is low. But my wife and I chose a different path for ourselves.

My wife and I chose early on to make different choices about the food we ate and fed to our children. When it came time for me to lose weight, I already had a long-term basis for healthy eating thanks to my amazing wife. Because I had learned so much before starting Weight Watchers, the transition to healthier eating was far easier for me. It came down to choosing to eat well, not also having to learn how to do it along the way. I think this is an example of how learning in my life has contributed to my own personal survival.

Today my reflection is on what it means to me to be a lifelong learner. I every much enjoy the fact that I am an ever-curious person who is always looking to expand and grow. I pray that this is a thirst that is never completely quenched in my life.

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