Turning Points: Up Close and Personal

Everything I have learned, whether from professional experience and activities or more personal turning points and important events in my life, tells me that, beyond everything else, all learning, in projection and consequence, is intensely personal. And even more importantly, the events that change your life trajectory happen, more often than not, away from the classroom and away from the academic endeavor. It is the sense we make of these events, either when they occur or later on in our lives, the value that reflection gives them, which actually drives the change in our lives.

So I began to question myself. Can I, along with the other topics, also write about my own personal learning? How did I develop the convictions, knowledge, and attitudes that I carry today? Why did I make the decisions that I made? What were the influences and events that formed me and affected the course of my life? Could I blog in a way that combined the strands of experiential DNA in my life, the personal learning, the professional development and trajectory, and the vision and hope for the post-traditional ecology that is informed by both? Well, I am going to try.

I have recently been inspired by a book, LifeReimagined: Discovering Your New Life Possibilities, by Richard Leider and Alan Webber. In it they lay out a path for working through life changing activities. The book also informs the LifeReimagined Institute at AARP, a forum dedicated to the same proposition.  Their approach includes what I call conscious reflection, developing the ability to assign value to and more deeply understand experiences you have had and dreams that you want to explore.

When did I come to understand that experience changes you every day and reflection is the way to extract meaning from that experience? It was a day in the late 1980’s when I was sorting old photographs, one of those lazy Sunday afternoon jobs for a winter weekend. I came across a picture of me cradling one of my sons, taken a dozen years earlier during my final days at the Community College of Vermont. As I looked at my smiling face in the photograph, I realized with a physical shock that I was looking at a stranger, a person who no longer existed. This wasn’t the person I saw in the mirror as I shaved every morning. This was someone young, insulated by his own naïveté, mostly unscarred and unseasoned. I wasn’t that person any longer.

The intervening 12 years had rushed by: elections won and lost, an unsuccessful business venture, my father’s death, and more. It was dizzying. There was a chasm of unreflected experience between the man in the picture and the person I had become. A river of unreflected learning and experience had flowed by and over me, making me a new and different person. On that Sunday afternoon, I began developing my understanding of active, disciplined reflection as a pedagogical and a personal learning tool that helps us extract meaning from experience.

When we reflect on what we know and the impact of what we have experienced, we gain control over our lives. When we do not reflect in this way, we are flying blind without any personal radar, risking our lives as victims of circumstance and prisoners of our own experience and learning.

So, every now and then, I am going to climb down from the podium of higher education and share a personal story about turning points and important events in my life. Let me know what you think.

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