Path of Learning

When Rosa so graciously opened her Talking Story forum this month on life-long learning, I was immediately intrigued.  Humbled by the invitation, I hemmed and hawed about what best to contribute here about the topic.  As my life’s work has revolved around teaching, learning and questioning, what came to mind was how we define knowledge and learning.

A good friend of mine grew up in a family where the kids were encouraged to be the “smartest one” in their class ”“ meaning that the expectation in her family was to excel, to do her best, in whatever she did.  And my friend certainly has used the family credo to her advantage ”“ she is one smart cookie, with many educational credits to her name, many work accomplishments, and is well respected in her field. 

I think about my friend’s experience in contrast to my family, where kids were just expected to be “smart”.  While “smart” wasn’t really defined explicitly, people in my family were academics, teachers and doctors. “Being smart” was an assumption: they were “smart” people, and so therefore you would be too.  “Smart” meant doing well in school.  Going to college was a given, and graduate school encouraged. 

For many of us, my friend and me included, being “smart” has been defined as what we know and is judged by what we achieve.  We go to school, where we learn how to learn in order to achieve; when we leave school, we learn how to be in the work world in order to achieve.  Learning winds up being driven by a desire to get to certain ends.

While life often dictates a focus on achievement and accomplishment, as time passes I’m finding that I’m less interested in how “smart” someone is judged by their book learning or what they’ve achieved.  Instead I’m more interested in how someone knows what they know, how they’ve formed their interpretations of the world, and what they say they want to learn more about. It’s less about the knowledge and where we’ve been, and more about the learning and where we’re going. 

Focusing on what learning means for each of us as individuals ”“ and there have been some great examples here this month ”“ we each have opportunities to more fully explore our humanness, our foibles and our gifts.  Finding and following our own path of learning, we have much gain and offer by increasing our own awareness and curiosity about the world around us.

Postcript by Rosa: Our Guest Author today is work/life coach Hanna Cooper,  author of Making A Difference, where she shares her ideas, resources and support for people working to make a difference. You will always find your link to Hanna in the right column Ho‘ohana Online Community Listing.


  1. says

    Jeeze Hanna, I didn’t expect to come to Talking Story this morning, dive into the pool – and not be able to find the bottom! This is deep man.
    Your paragraph starting, “While life often dictates a focus on achievement…” is one of the most insightful collection of sentences that I’ve read lately. How people form their interpretations of the world, is a fascinating concept. I think Yvonne provided us a window towards this view yesterday.
    I might have commented here too soon. (But I had to) Instead, I think I’ll just reread this post a few times and let it permeate a bit. Darn good stuff Miss Hanna!
    SUGGESTION: Visit Hanna’s site. She extends the subject of learning this morning in a most rewarding direction.

  2. says

    Great suggestion Dave, for you are right; Hanna has written a very beautiful and moving piece about learning on her own Making A Difference this morning.
    Hanna, I particularly like that you have put your mom’s story in a category you call “honoring values” for in doing so we find that our learning can take on profound meaning for us, just as it did for you.

  3. says

    Dave, Rosa –
    Thanks for your comments on my words here, and what I wrote over at my site as well. As I wrote my piece for here on Rosa’s site, so many themes came up for me on this topic, including the story about my Mom. I’m glad if these touched something in you both as well.
    This month’s theme – Learning and knowledge – ‘Ike loa – has certainly been a rich one. I’m struck glancing at even just the titles of posts from this month about the depth and breadth of learning that’s been shared. Rosa, thank you for this opportunity. As always, you lead by example.

  4. says

    Powerful post Hanna. I’ve read it three or four times now. Wow!
    Finding and following our OWN PATH OF LEARNING…We all learn differently, so instead of saying “Hey, learn like me!” we should focus on how we can help people “learn like they learn.” Encourage others to find how they learn best…and then learn something new!
    Wow! Thank you for sharing your powerful message. And a great blog you have going as well. You definitely make a difference, and you are now on my blogroll, to be sure!

  5. says

    Phil – I’m humbled. Thanks for weighing in with your thoughts.
    Helping others to learn as they learn best – and taking your own lessons from that experience – a big yes to that! A powerful concept there – linking with multiple ways of knowing and being in the world.
    In my coaching practice, I’m constantly reminded by the numerous ways we can “know” something – not just intellectually, but having some awareness physically or emotionally (such as the “gut” instinct we all can too often ignore) – and still have difficulty “hearing” the message. I’ve found great knowledge in learning how to “listen” in many different ways.