I recently read about a study of ninety top leaders in a variety of fields. Interviewers were trying to determine just what it is that sets leaders apart. They discovered that, for one thing, those who rise to the top of their professions share a never-ending capacity to develop and improve their skills. The key concept here is “never-ending.” They know how important it is to ALWAYS increase their knowledge and hone their skills.
But what about the rest of us? Author M. Scott Peck said, “All my life I used to wonder what I would become when I grew up. Then, about seven years ago, I realized that I was never going to grow up -- that growing is an ever ongoing process.” I agree. Growing, learning, developing… the process is ongoing. And those who want to live fully will intentionally make learning and growth a lifelong habit.
I once visited a friend who had just celebrated her 80th birthday. She talked with much enthusiasm about a quilt she was making for her great-grandson Loren. She was almost finished -- everything except the center square which she had saved for last. She wanted that to be something special that Loren would particularly like, so she asked him what he would like her to make for the all-important center piece. The little boy replied, “I would like a turtle, please.”
The problem was that she had never made a turtle and wasn’t sure if she could. So she tried to redirect him. “How about a dog?” she suggested. “Or a house?” She had done those before.
But little Loren, too young to sense her discomfort, persisted. “No thank you, Gramma. I think I would like a turtle.”
“Are you sure you wouldn’t like something else? You see, I don’t think I know how to make a turtle.”
Now this was something he didn’t expect. Gramma, who seemed to know how to do everything, even make quilts, didn’t know how to make a turtle.
At first he looked perplexed. Then he must have thought of the many times his own parents encouraged him, because what came out next welled up from a desire to be helpful: “Well, Gramma,” he said pensively, “I think you’re old enough to learn.”
Gramma laughed. “Yes, I suppose I’m old enough to learn.” And since she was a believer that she could do whatever she set her mind to, she set it to learning this new task. When she finished the quilt, it had a turtle right in the middle.
My friend was especially proud of that quilt. And she discovered that Loren was right: she was old enough (and she was also young enough) to learn.
You may or may not want to be a top leader in your field. It doesn’t matter. But when you decide to explore new directions every day, to never stop learning and growing, the most wonderful things can happen.
– Steve Goodier