Over the past few years I have used my Post-9/11 GI bill to go back to school. Believe me, being in my late 50's when I started using those benefits, it was initially a struggle to find the motivation to drag myself out of the house for a night (or Saturday morning or afternoon) class that typically ran from 6:00 - 9:30 P.M. However, one of the unanticipated benefits came from my interactions with my classmates and professors. In fact, the experience resembled many of the navy schools I attended where often times the best learning came from the experiences of my classmates.
Now having completed sixteen master's classes (yes, there's a degree in there somewhere), I am in the final months of my education benefits. Along the way I have met some of the most interesting and enjoyable people of my life. In fact a few of my professors are easily the most inspiring I have ever had. And while just as I did in the military, I know where the line is between junior and senior, my interaction with those professors has approached the level of colleague.
With me these past few years have been members of every branch of our armed service (some still recovering from combat injuries), former shipmates (that's you Tom Dixon), local industry leaders, co-workers, naturalized U.S citizens from nearly all parts of the world, and countless others whose sacrifices were never revealed to me. It's crazy, but I now look forward to going to class even after a long day at work.
Recently I was asked by one of my MBA professors if I would write an abstract on my experience as an adult student, focusing on the challenges facing the professor of adult students. Below is that abstract........
"What motivates someone to follow the lead of another? Whether it is a parent, a friend, or a professor, just what is it that inspires someone to want more in their life? James Macgregor Burns, a military historian and author, witnessed that motivation on the frontlines of battle during World War II, and summarized his opinion of leadership as simply being followership. While his work goes far deeper, at its core is the belief that the collective we tend to exaggerate the leadership of those at the top, and minimize the role in leadership of those at the grassroots level ( Burns, 2010). In a way, that view should resonate with professors and their appreciation for what they can learn from their students, especially their adult students.
So what does a professor think as they look out at their adult students? Do they assume a level of sacrifice equal to their own? Do they appreciate those unknown sacrifices quietly in their thoughts even though they can't see them? And do they use the certainty of life's intervention on a person's daily endurance to dedicate themselves to be the inspiration for a better life?
Adults who come to a classroom do so for many reasons. They come with life experiences that have undoubtedly forged their perspective. They may know the harsh reality of war, the relentless challenge of caring for a handicapped child, or be burdened by the weight of unfulfilled aspirations and dreams. Most likely they are very hard to impress, and even harder to truly inspire. All this makes being the professor of adult students one of the greatest challenges and blessings I can imagine. It demands a person of exceptional integrity, humility, self-awareness, transparency, grace, competence, and courage.
Developing lifelong learners, scholars, and career professionals cannot be accomplished by living in the fringes of leadership. You have to be courageous and unapologetic as you engage in meaningful discussions about the things in life and leadership that matter. You must be an unbiased arbiter, yet have an opinion that is founded in decency and forged by your experience, while remaining consistent with the values of the institution you represent. You should take on social issues that devalue and objectify sectors of our society, as well as other personal challenges that undermine the success of organizations and derail lives. Issues such as: human suffering, and the consequences of trust. You must illuminate the connection between personal biases and the impact of those biases on another's suffering, and use that connection as a pathway to enlightenment.
Professors have a tacit obligation to create an environment that fosters an open and honest exchange of ideas that inspires adult learners to lead better lives, be better parents, and be better team members. They should use their position as educators to offer new perspectives on topics that stimulate debate without hostility, and that lead to a more inclusive and cooperative understanding of life's opportunities."
If you have a means and the time to continue your education, either from an employer provided plan or the GI bill, don't let your belief that you are too old, or that the effort won't be worth it to keep you from doing it. I will very likely never use the degree I earned by going back to school. But I have met some truly great people. We've had civil exchanges of views on every issue that divides or unites our country, and those exchanges have enlightened me and reinforced that things aren't nearly as bad as you might think. Even if it's not more time in class that "floods your well deck", find something else that might allow you to meet some incredible people. They're out there in the most unlikely places.
Me and Tom Dixon at Saint Leo (2017). We served together on USS ARLEIGH BURKE.