The Eternal Student

The fulfilling journey of self-learning

Apparently, and this is because my neck hurts, not because many of those who love me have said it, I am, shall we say, a bit bullheaded. When I decide on something, it happens. If something should be done in a certain order, especially if I developed the order, that’s how it should be done. Right is right, wrong is wrong, and while it is not my way or the highway, I am fairly certain my way is always the best way. 

Which has caused my current, locked-tight, don’t-turn-right-while-driving neck pain, according to Louise L. Hays, author of “You Can Heal Your life.” I found Louise as I have found so many things, by taking on a rigorous, fulfilling journey of self-learning. 

If you have read my book, “What’s Next,” or sat in on one of my speeches in the last couple of years, you know that I was told I was a stupid girl, too stupid to pursue a career in nursing, by an influential teacher. She said it would be a waste of time and money, and that proclamation kind of crashed my life. I decided a cute boy named Paul, who is now a wizened old man, was a better choice than figuring out how to get educated. As it turns out, he wasn’t that bad of a choice. We’re still together 40 years later, and my life has been full of educational moments and movements, with his support.

I remember the day it happened, the day I realized I could learn throughout my life, the day the light bulb went off and I decided to be me, instead of the limited version I had sunk into for a few years. I was in a class on early childhood education and the leader said, “We help children know they will always, throughout their whole lives, be learners.” For some reason, I heard that in my soul and embarked on self-teaching, self-learning. 

If I was interested, I pursued it. Sewing taught me the math I had never quite “gotten.” Cooking, as my mother-in-law said, “is just chemistry and common sense,” both of which I needed to practice more of. Toastmasters taught me public speaking, and car sales shot me down the path of selling, training, team building and leading.

Mentors helped me perfect my gifts of writing — giving me the courage to publish not just one book (which has great advice, but was a bit of a flop) but several, including the one I am excitedly writing now, “Quiet Leadership.” Other valued mentors helped me discover my gift for coaching others to grow as individuals and teams.

Now, when I speak to students, I tell them there are three keys to a happy, successful life: to work hard, to learn something new every single day, and to help others. Sometimes they hear me, sometimes they don’t and that’s OK. My goal is to reach the person who was told they were too stupid to learn, and encourage them to learn anyway, to never, ever, no matter what life throws at them, have a day where they don’t do something, learn something, give something. 

When we owned In Good Glazes, a business I knew nothing about when the doors opened, and eventually became one of the most successful studios in the country, we saw people too scared to paint pottery because they were afraid they would do it wrong. Kids would quickly get over it, listen to our instructions, and dive in. Senior citizens were harder to get started — a lifetime of doing the same thing every day, in the same way, had decreased their capacity to embrace trial and error, to live in the moment. As I age, I fight against that pattern, so I find ways to challenge myself every day.  

Yesterday, I actually argued about how a bathhouse plumbing problem should be handled, and the day before I had an in-depth conversation about how to wire an RV park. I have mastered running a commercial kitchen during the last three years and find that when I said yes to managing a church camp in the summers, I became a better resource for my coaching and team building clients, as well as a bad ass at chasing away bears. Plumbing and electrical conversations are just a bonus.  

The three things I lean hardest into now are:

-- “Crucial Accountability,” from VitalSmarts. I use this book extensively in both my life and coaching practice. The idea that accountability conversations with others start with the conversation we are having with ourselves revolutionized my thinking on the subject of human growth and leadership. 

-- Second, as noted above, Lousie L. Hay and her book, “You Can Heal Your Life.” I have gained insights into my thinking, and ailments, as well as helped others to understand how they have been manifesting pain in their lives for over 30 years. And, because of that book, and my sore neck, today I relented on the subject I was being bullheaded about, took some time to reflect and stretch, and feel like me again, ready to take on the world with an open mind, something I purport to always have, but need to be reminded to actually have. 

-- Last, TED talks. I hope you are using them, and I hope you get the chance to give one, as I did. I feel they are “safer” than YouTube, as the presenters are experts, and the audience is critical! From TED talks I have learned how to tie my shoes properly (who knew?!) and that my propensity to learn, to grow, to keep trying the next thing and the next after that, is not that I am unsettled, it is that, according to Emilie Wapneck, I am a Multipotentialite. That is a big word for a lifelong learner. Multipotentialities dig into a subject, practice it, and move to the next, often amassing multiple degrees.

Which brings me back to my diagnosis of being a stupid girl, and my lack of a degree, which I now, stubbornly refuse to pursue. I carried a limiting hurt for many years, and then, while working diligently to get over it, I realized that while the teacher shouldn’t have said it quite that way, she was right. She saved lives on every shift I would have worked as a nurse, because details are not my thing. I owe her a debt of gratitude, as do my potential patients! She not only saved their lives, her honest words launched me into what I hope you are living — a life of wonder, discovery, joy and learning.      


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