As I reflect on this month’s Ho’ohana on Lifelong Learning I find that, at this time of my life, learning for me is centered in Inquiry.
It hasn’t always been that way. In fact, the concept of learning itself has been a learning experience for me. I remember back at Kailua High School when it seemed that learning was something that only happened in school. The teacher could be counted on to give us things to learn. I just partially showed up to receive what it was that the teacher had to offer. I took the occasional test to prove that I had, or at times had not, learned the required material. At that time, learning wasn’t something that I did for myself, it was something that was done to me. I really didn’t like it much then. I wasn’t really interested in what the teachers thought was important for me to learn. That is until I went to college”
At last! College and learning was interesting! I could choose my own courses and concentrate on learning stuff that I was interested in. It was really cool to have some choice and control over what I learned and when. I discovered during the experience that I had a thirst and a talent for problem solving and mathematics. I had found a fun place where there were endless puzzles to solve. The math teachers often hid a devilish puzzle somewhere on their tests to try to stump the best students and I took it as my personal mission never to get stumped. It was our little competitive game and I loved them for it. I didn’t quite achieve the perfection I sought, but I did well and enjoyed the personal challenge. Learning at this time was no longer something that was done to me, I was the one who was in charge of my learning, and it made all the difference. Yet I still had a notion that learning was something that happened only at school and when I was done and had my diploma in hand to enter the work force, it would finally be over and I could relax. Hah! That is until I started working”
I chose to work in what was at that time the brand new field of programming computers. Computers were a great match for me. They utilized my problem solving and math skills and again I found myself in a wonderland of never ending puzzles to solve. I was in heaven. As I learned to expertly program the computer that my company was using I found that as soon as I was getting to know everything there was to know about the computer, a new one would come out. It would have a new and more powerful operating system and more complicated things to know about. I loved this recurring cycle ”“ it meant that the puzzles would still never end. So, with no one giving me a syllabus outlining the learning I needed or should follow, I eagerly read all the technical manuals, tried new things, and strived to make my programs the best in the industry. I remember thinking specifically that I wanted to be the best programmer ever.
I now know that I could never reach that unattainable goal, but the goal gave me the energy to stretch and learn, not because a test was coming next week as it did in college, but because there was something deep inside of me that I wanted to achieve. I craved the knowledge of my craft so much that regardless of what was asked of me, I wanted to know as many things as I could. Since learning was of course about accumulating information, I wanted to cram and hoard as many facts as I could into my head in order to be recognized by others as being the best and most knowledgeable. That is until I could no longer keep up with all the changes and the new stuff coming out”
The big shift to a new level happened in my thirties. I had built a great career. I had moved myself and my family to the mainland to work for one of the biggest computer companies in the world. I was recognized by my peers and had earned some awards for my software designs. Yet I wasn’t the best computer programmer in the world and was starting to realize I never would be. I had two young daughters whom I cherished and I was mesmerized by watching them grow and learn. Their little brains at such a young age were much more complicated and interesting than any computer had ever been for me. I became ensnared by the beauty and enchantment of the human mind.
So, to my surprise, I went back to school. I went to USC to get my masters degree in computer science and I focused on applying computer science to the study of consciousness. Once again I found myself in heaven, learning at a much deeper level than I ever had before about a subject that was more complicated than I or anyone else I knew could ever fathom. And yet, I still found that being a father to my daughters was still more interesting and powerful than anything the courses could offer me. The courses I was taking took the same approach to understanding the human mind I had always been taught and had used thus-far in my life ”“ my professors and I were all looking for the answers to the questions we had about the inner workings of the mind. Yet, with the role of being a father to my daughters, answers didn’t matter so much to me any longer. What turned out to be effective in raising my daughters was for me to develop the skill to recognize the appropriate provocative questions that would trigger their curiosity and wonder about their world and lead them to the next step in their discovery.
It wasn’t about learning and teaching what I thought was right, but joining them in their curiosity and wonder, knowing that they needed to develop their own answers appropriate for where they were in their life of pony tails and Barbie dolls while I relished in wonder what their answers might be. Again I was in heaven, entranced with their endless energy, curiosity and love. I had never experienced learning being about love before, but both of my daughters taught me the miracle of learning at the level of love. This continued to grow as my daughters did ”“ until I couldn’t just do it at home with my daughters any more. They grew up ”“ and so did I.
Over some time I became compelled to realign the gap that was widening between the work that I was doing and the learner I was becoming. I could no longer be satisfied in a profession of solution seekers. Finding answers to problems became too small of a concept to hold who I was becoming. So I went back to school again ”“ this time to learn an entirely new profession as an organization consultant that helps groups and organizations of people stuck in difficult issues learn and grow their way out of them.
I now live my life fully as one whole person. I no longer have multiple selves – one that goes to work to make a living and one at home that I share with my family. I do my work sharing my largest loving self with people and organizations and skillfully find the appropriate provocative questions that will trigger their curiosity and wonder about their situation and lead them in the next step in their discovery. Here I am again ”“ in heaven, with a whole world, my larger family, to wonder with.
At the center of that wonder is an essential question for me ”“ one that I do not ever expect to find an “answer” to. One that drives my inquiry every day with every group of people I engage with. The question of my inquiry is: “How do we come together powerfully to do the work that is important to us?” You will find it on my web site and over my computer in my office. I strive to live in this question every day and express the wonder of it with everyone I encounter.
At the heart of this inquiry is a deep knowing that an essential part of this inquiry is to show up to each engagement with a deep embodied expression of Aloha. I have known and lived Aloha since I was very young and mistakenly took it for granted that the whole world lived this way. When I left Hawaii for the mainland it was a painful realization that so many people have not experienced Aloha. But it surges in my body with every beat of my heart as I first inquire to understand others in partnership to discover how we can work powerfully together ”“ whether the other knows about Aloha ”“ or not.
So, while the meaning of lifelong learning has changed for me many times over the years, this is the deepest and most “never ending” learning I have experienced so far and it is the most satisfying. Every day I am eager and curious about how each and every person, every one of you, is showing up right now, in what ever form of learning you are finding meaningful to you, in order to discover how we can be more powerful together than if we remain separate.
Whether you see learning as imposed, guided, accumulated, grown, nurtured, loved, or something entirely different than I have, I invite you to engage me and each other in this mutual learning about learning and discover how powerful it truly is for all that choose the path to engage.
Postcript by Rosa: I am so pleased to introduce our Ho‘ohana Community member Jeff Young to you this month with this article on his journey of lifelong learning. Visit Jeff at his website, www.coignite.com for more on his ho‘ohana; “to work with dynamic leaders who who want to learn how to create exceptional organizations that are capable of accomplishing great things together today and tomorrow; who want to bring people together powerfully to ignite their potential.”