Perspective periodically offers different viewpoints on lifelong learning. This column is authored by Neil Olsson, a former corporate executive. Originally from Arizona, Neil now lives in Montana with his wife, Kaye. Since retiring several years ago, Neil purposefully fills his time with a variety of activities, including remodeling the couple’s home and pursuing a number of hobbies and activities that are detailed in this column. Neil serves as a wonderful role model for the power of lifelong learning at an age when many people are content to remain in front of the television or computer screen.
Retirement is an interesting concept. Most people think of it as being when you leave the working world. However I think many people — in particular, many men I know — have been retired before they even got started. I’m referring to the ones that have no hobbies, seldom if ever read a book, and have very little external input to keep their minds fresh. And no, I don’t consider watching sports on TV a hobby — it’s a diversion and a real time-eater. I don’t mean to be critical about it, I just don’t have time for it. I’d rather learn something or actually do something.
Sadly many people don’t develop skills or interests outside of their work realm. I think those are the ones who often say “I don’t think I’ll ever retire. I don’t know what I’d do. I’d be bored to death.” Many of those actually do die soon after retirement–perhaps because they have lost everything they’ve lived for.
I’ve never understood that mindset. My job was interesting and at times all consuming, but I always had a desire to learn something new, develop new skills and stretch myself mentally.
I do like sports for instance, but I’d rather do them than watch them. Many of those are self-challenging like golf, shooting, fly-fishing and even rollerblading (which turned-out not to be such a good idea at the age of 50). While I was working, however, I always thought about what I was going to do that evening or on the weekend. I read an average of one book per week for the last 20 years or so. In addition, I taught myself to weld so I could do wrought iron work and make decorative and rustic furniture. I learned how to brew beer. I can also fix most things that break around the house. I repair my vehicles when possible, just to see if I can. Over the years I have played music in bands and done solo stuff. I also learned a second language. I got my private pilot’s license when I was 56 and still working. I am now very close to my instrument rating at the age of 62.
I’m not sharing this with you to be boastful. I want to encourage people to keep learning and keep growing. Our aging process can stay interesting and our minds can remain sharp, but we have to keep stretching and trying new things. For me, learning something like instrument flying at my age is challenging, but very rewarding. I think that many in the medical community would agree that stimulating our minds will help stave-off mental deterioration.
I plan to stay sharp and continue learning new things. Will I get bored? Never! I’m too busy thinking of my next project.