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What this newsletter is all about
We choose our next world through what we learn in this one. Learn nothing, and the next world is the same as this one, all the same limitations and lead weights to overcome.
Richard Bach: Jonathan Livingston Seagull
… the little seagull who follows his dream to fly like a falcon
Here it is, the first edition of Onward. Substack advises writers to think of the first post as a mission statement. Mission is a big word. A little scary even. Am I on a mission? I don’t know. Certainly not in a missionary kind of way.
So let’s start simple.
I was always attracted to stories of people who keep learning and reimagining themselves while moving through life. This is one reason why I love being a journalist and author.
Earlier in my life, I became fascinated with the economist Joseph Schumpeter–so fascinated that I wrote a book about him. From an early age, he reinvented himself again and again. Starting out as an economic wunderkind in his 20s, he became a politician and banker in his 30s and then established himself as an eminent professor in his 40s.
A couple of years ago, the insights of British scientist Julie Dunne who I was lucky to interview, inspired an article I wrote about late bloomers. Julie worked for decades as an accountant but then, in her mid-40s, fell in love with the sciences. So she went back to school, got her PH.D. in organic geochemistry, and is now a researcher at the University of Bristol.
In my free time, I turn to stories like these, too. Last year, I devoured the book “Old in Art School” by Nell Painter. Following her retirement as a history professor at Princeton University, she enrolled in the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design. Her account of becoming a professional artist is bold, funny, and wise.
I also admired Gerald Marzorati’s endeavor to learn to play tennis in his early sixties. And mind you, serious tennis, not just playing around! The longtime magazine editor challenged himself to become good enough to compete in national senior tournaments, as he recounts in his insightful and reflective book “Late to the Ball.”
Why do these stories speak to me? Because they say so much about what navigating through life can look like. About how our capacity to learn never seems to end, until the end. About how we can find new narratives about who we are and what we are able to do and then put them into action.
These examples inform my projects as a continuous learner and self-explorer. (See About page). I hope that they can inspire you, too.
Do you always want to know more and learn something new? Do you feel you have interests and talents that you haven’t yet explored enough? Have you achieved great things but now want to steer in new directions? Or have you noticed a certain ennui in your life, a weariness doing the same things, having the same thoughts, and telling the same stories year in and year out? If you find yourself nodding at any of these questions, then Onward is for you.
Research has established the many benefits that life-long learning, embracing change, and challenging oneself provide for people of any age. For example, a study from the University of Texas showed that seniors who learned digital photography or quilting for an average of 16 hours a week for three months considerably improved their episodic memory. And this was not just a short-term effect. After a year, the improvements were still measurable!
But staying open to life’s possibilities also comes with difficulties, frustrations, and doubts. Is it worth embarking on this new path? Can I pull off the quest I have in mind? And even more fundamental: How do I find a pursuit that captivates me and kindles my passion?
These are questions I know many people have. I certainly have them. And here is where Onward comes in. My goal is to go on a journey and explore the many questions and aspects the topic entails. In weekly posts, I will draw on scientific research, studies done by lifespan, education, organizational, and personality psychologists, as well as experts from other fields.
For example, there is fascinating research about the dynamic nature of passion and what that means for our pursuits. Studies have found that one common misperception people have about passion is that it is fixed. You either have passion for something or you don’t. This false belief can make people less likely to explore new topics. In reality, passion is something that often develops over time and has to be nurtured, not something to be discovered or happen upon.
I will also tell stories of people who know what it takes to keep learning and changing from their personal experiences. And finally, there will be photos, paintings, poems, and other pieces of art that provide impulses from a visual and intuitive perspective–something for the eyes, the imagination, and the heart to feast on.
Some posts will be longer (like next week’s post about where daring the scary can lead to), and some shorter. Some will be free; others will require a paid subscription (more about this on the About Page). But hopefully, all my letters will be insightful. I have a list of topics that I feel are worth exploring. But I would also love to hear about your thoughts, questions, doubts, and challenges.
So let’s go on this journey together!
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