“There is nothing more notable in Socrates than that he found time, when he was an old man, to learn music and dancing, and thought it time well spent.” ― Michel de Montaigne, The Complete Essays
We have an opportunity to learn and grow and discover until our very last days. On the other hand, we might consign ourselves to the corner of closed up people waiting to die. What kind of life is that? Life isn’t easy, but why turn off the lights years before last call?
Lifelong learning is well beyond our formal education. I actively rebelled against a good chunk of that formal education, by some miracle earning both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree. Admittedly, I might have gone further along the arc of human potential if I’d just followed that formal education a bit more stringently. Maybe I’d have gone to Oxford or Cambridge or Harvard. But that wasn’t meant to be my arc. Maybe it wasn’t yours either. Each of us runs the race of maximizing our personal potential at our own pace.
Formal education teaches you rules others want you to live by. Those who master it early enough get a strong lead and a key position in the pack. What some of us realized in navigating that formal education is we didn’t really want to be part of the pack anyway. Sometimes we confuse indifference for incompetence. The first time I tacked Calculus I thought I was incompetent. It turns out I just didn’t care about it enough to try. When I did care enough the experience was wholly different.
Lifelong learning is a personal quest for understanding, but it ought to sparkle and pop and illuminate for the thrill of it all. For it is a thrill to remove the “un” from aware or familiar. It’s a thrill to master a simple phrase in a foreign language or to try to cook something that seemed outside your skillset before. That excitement can build on itself for the rest of our lives.
Who says we have to be bored and lonely and used up at the end of our days? We get to reinvent ourselves every day, if we don’t squander the opportunity to learn and grow and discover. There’s enchantment in that moment when we finally realize what we’d been missing all this time. Who says we can’t carry that sense of enchantment to the end of our time? Sounds like a hell of a ride.