Life’s Learning Ladder

Today’s guest post is from @KateGL. Kate is a jolly smart person who writes interesting things about leadership and what leaders can aspire to be on her blog – Leading Light. She makes the time to comment, talk with and interact with people daily and has built a good many relationship from it.

I’ve had such a wonderful life to date, full of variety, amazing people and things that have inspired me. It’s hard to pick a single learning and describe it as my “biggest”. Every day I learn something new and each learning in its way is huge, because without the foundation of knowledge that I have within me I can’t progress to the next stage. It was due to my inability to provide a single, simple answer to @naturalgrump’s request for an account of “my biggest learning in life” that, initially, I was hesitant about contributing. Then I realised that it is the creation of my attitude towards my experiences that is my biggest learning. I have grown to appreciate that I can draw upon the things I have done and, more importantly, I now understand that I can use all that I have learned from the past to help me going forward. The ability to apply old learnings to new scenarios is part of what makes us human and can result in wonderful outcomes and at times a few laughs.

The capacity to acquire new skills and understanding and to use them as struts in the ladder to the next level of skill or experience is a natural part of human development. Shakespeare wrote about “the seven ages of man”:


“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. As, first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”

There is a similarity between the ages of man and the progression that can be made in a corporate career. A smooth flow from stage to stage, with new skills acquired along the way to enable promotion and success at the next level. In learning & development circles, most of us are familiar with the leadership pipeline:

However, outside the corporate environment, we take a similar route in life, regardless of the job we finally end up doing. We cannot progress successfully to the next stage without acquiring the basic skills for the level at which we are at. It seems to me that I have learned from each step so far and, without consciously knowing it, I have used each distinct level to equip me for what is to come:

Infant – the first few years during which we progressively learn to see, to gauge distance and differentiate, to touch and hold, to balance, to walk, to talk, to appreciate that we are an individual (although most of us are convinced that the world revolves around us). I learned about the value of having people around me on whom I could rely. I learned that although I like blue Smarties there are others who prefer the orange ones.

Schoolchild – without the earlier learnings it would be impossible to benefit from being at school. School is not just a place for gaining the skills to read, write, present a lucid argument, to explain and anticipate an outcome; it is also where we first learn to be part of a group and how to interact with strangers. I was the leader of a popular gang. I was also at times ostracised and bullied. I learned how people interact with each other and how much most of us want to be loved.

Teenager – Like most of us, I experienced highs and lows of emotion as the hormones that controlled my moods raged through me. I begrudged the responsibility my parents tried to inflict upon me and I enjoyed “being an adult” with my friends. I grew to appreciate how insecure most of us are and hence how keen we are to be accepted and/or to make an impact. I learned to power of love and the dangers of infatuation.

Student – Being a student was the first time that I was responsible for me and the repercussions of my actions. It was also the first time that I found myself mixing with a truly diverse collection of people from all over the world. I began to appreciate the fact that a combination of knowledge and skills can produce a better answer or result – I was a member of a pub quiz team that was invincible, because each of us were specialists and our combined strength was much more powerful than each person competing on their own.

Worker – Amazing, people wanted to pay me to contribute towards the success of their business! However, I had to learn to comply with rules and regulations, even if I did not agree with them. I learned that success is founded on much more than just academic results and that the solution for a problem can come from various routes. I learned that communication is often the biggest issue in an organisation or between people and that the lens through which you see things will impact your outlook and the way in which you articulate your point of view.

Partner – I learned that life is a balancing act and that there is more to life than work. I learned the meaning of commitment, trust and the joy of sharing things with a person you really care about. I also learned that at times a relationship can be hard and hurtful, but that, if it is important, it’s worth making an effort for others.

Parent – this was the time when I discovered that I am prepared, without question, to sacrifice myself and all that I have for the people that mean most to me. I have experienced such joy and suffered such angst whilst being a parent, but I wouldn’t change a minute of it to make my life easier. I found strengths within myself I did not know I had – and just when I couldn’t cope any longer (e.g. with sleep deprivation or teenage disputes) things changed. I have learned to have faith in the fact that, no matter how awful a time seems, the tide will turn and things will change.

Leader – I really care about people. I want them to achieve their own goals and exceed their own expectations, as well as those of the individuals around them. I enjoy inspiring, supporting and encouraging, as well as helping people to learn. I have co-founded businesses where all we had was a concept and a laptop and, with the right team, we built an award winning business that was exemplary in its field. I have watched people grow and become what they never believed they could be capable of. I am truly lucky and privileged to share and build the experiences that I have had with the people I have worked with. I learned from each and every one of them and I know that I still have some wonderful adventures to come.

Carer – My parents are growing older and the balance of our relationship is shifting. I am often the carer and advisor, rather than the cared for. It was not until I became a parent that I began to appreciate all that my mother and father have done for me. I must confess that I enjoy being able to do something, no matter how small, for them. It is only a trifling contribution, but being able to save my mother £100 off her car insurance, by teaching her the wonders of the internet and the ability to compare prices and providers was, in a tiny way, a means for me to give something back.

And next… I suspect that the time will come when I will need to be cared for and I will have to learn to accept my decline in ability and strength. That acceptance alone will be learning. It will be a new chapter with many lessons and experiences that I will cherish.

The one thing I have learned, and it is a big learning, is that there is always more to learn, but that the skills and knowledge that you have gained in the past will enable you to move forward.

Over the month of February I am hosting guest blog posts and the invitation is open to all. If you’d like to take part, the question you have to answer is: What has been your biggest learning in life?

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Published by

Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

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