23 July 2015

Advice from my father: Learn new things

Dad was always cutting out articles of interest, reading books and attending classes. He loved to learn and I am sure his commitment to ongoing education helped him live as long as he did.

One of the articles he read contained the following list that he transcribed and kept in his daily view:

Tony Clennett: ListWhat 80 year olds advise 50 year olds need to do so
they are ready for retirement:
1.  Learn new things
2.  Develop lots of interests
3.  Find useful ways of connecting with the world
4.  Cultivate important family relationships and friendships
5.  Take steps to protect your health
6.  Throw away the scorecard

I would argue this list, as helpful as it might be to people contemplating retirement, is relevant for any adult who finds themselves busy with life and wondering where the time goes.

My father was a shining example of learning new things. In fact, sometimes he would become slightly obsessed.

When my cousin, Virginia, married her Brazillian husband, also Tony, Dad became very interested in Brazillian music. When Mary married her English husband, Sam, Dad spent hours learning about the famous English architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens who re-designed Sam's family home, the Ashwell Bury and the renowned British horticulturalist and garden designer, Gertrude Jekyll, who designed the twentieth century garden of the Bury.

In Fiji Dad immersed himself in the Fijian culture and, as a result, endeared himself greatly to the local staff at Fiji Inland Revenue, where he worked for two years across 1977 - 78. The Indian food in Fiji inspired Dad to cook curries, and he took pride in grinding his own spices.

Dad greatly enjoyed painting and drawing, and had some talent, producing many paintings and sketches. He especially enjoyed drawing illustrations on birthday cards that he and Mum sent to their six grandchildren.

Dad also taught himself woodwork and made three desks and other household furniture that are still in functional use in the family home.

I have had a lifetime attempting to follow in my father's footsteps. From what I have learned from him, and picked up myself along the way, here are my suggestions to help you learn new things:

1.  Join your local library. When the books are free you'll be more inclined to try a left-field subject to read about.
2.  Complement your reading with audiobooks: The beauty of audio books is that wherever your phone is, your books are. And you can absorb a book whether you are driving, using public transport, waiting in a queue or on a plane. You'll be amazed at how much more you'll gain from a book when you listen to top quality narration.
2.  Learn something that requires a mix of physical and mental challenge: During my recent holiday to Queenstown I had snowboarding lessons. Although I can ski, I have never snowboarded before. My triumph was making it down the beginners' slope, twice, without falling. The mental and physical effort required to learn snowboarding greatly exceeds that of skiing (it hurts more because you fall more) and, as a result, I found it an intoxicating mix.
3.  Have a much younger person teach you something: Having my 8 year old son teach me various Wii games (so he could beat me, of course) was a great change in the dynamic of our relationship, and it also had me understand more of the world that absorbs his time and interest.

4.  Explore other cultures: One of the highlights of my trip to Phuket last year was visiting the Thai Hua Museum in Old Phuket Town. I loved learning about the pre-mass tourism economy of Phuket (tin mining) and I discovered that there was a fascinating connection with my home state (the first tin mining machinery used on Phuket was originally used in the tin mines of Tasmania's west coast).

Vale, Dad. I love you and I love the many things you have given me; foremost among them is the gift of learning.

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