“It is never too late to learn”
This is a post for anyone who believes, thought, said and wants to pursue this idea (I am one of them).
Everyone ages. Although we increase our learning as we grow up, some people stop learning after certain point, and it is ironic that one of the main reasons is aging.
“18 years old”
I tend to introduce myself when being asked about my age (except in a formal setting).
On the December 5th 2019, I turned 36. To calculate simply, I spent 18 years twice, and as it is a good turning point, I would like to reflect on what I mean by and why I care about that age, the relationship between age and learning, adult and child as well as a comparison between myself in 18 years old and now.
Why 18 years old
In retrospect, I have been saying “I am 18 years old” for 18 years after 18-year-old. I just thought about why I insist this.
The UN convention of the rights of child defines child as “a human being below the age of 18 years old”, so 18 year-old is the border line between children and adults. But back then, I did not know about such a convention, then why?
Getting deviated from the matter a bit, for a few years, nobody doubted me saying 18 years old. In fact, some people believed it until in my late 20s (or even 30-year-old). It is quite common that Asian people are hard to tell their age. Even among Asian, I seem to have a baby face. For example, when I meet new Japanese people at a restaurant, they asked my age after a while, and after telling my real age, they stood up all of a sudden, apologizing me “I am so sorry for my informal way of talking, I thought you were younger than myself!” It was the first time to be apologized for telling my age.
Also, I worked in education section being surrounded by children so I maintained young sprits unconsciously (I wasn’t embarrassed to run on the street after my 20s).
On the other hand, it was around my 18-year-old when I started traveling by myself. I continue my travel ever since, and if you don’t stay in one place, your sense of time gets diverted (e.g. my time in Japan sort of stopped even after 13 years of living outside Japan, or I feel refreshed whenever I go to a new place).
Thus, not knowing a fear and being able to do anything with curiosity and motivation, that is 18-year-old for me. Let me now touch upon the mindset’s difference between adults and children.
Adults and children
As mentioned, 18-year old is the border between child and adult. As personality and speed of growth differs from person to person, however, it cannot be “from this moment on you are adult!”. If you compare someone who has lived his/her 18 years fully playing, learning and challenging new things, and other who just let the time pass without doing much, the depth as a person can be very different. As someone who has observed both type, I would like to stay in the former side, especially when many countries define “young people” up to 35 years old (so I am no longer young people for my biological age!)
What is sad (or even dangerous) about aging, is that the older you get, the more we tend to be aware of age out of built-up belief and external pressure, thinking “now that I am XX years old” and get into somewhat unnatural transition to adult. Of course, it is not for everyone, but I do think there are many people. Let me exemplify the case of unnatural transition.
Thanks to my 2 elder brothers, I grew up with older people since I was little, and learned so many different things (the youngest kid tends to observe a lot). This included some negative exemples. For instance, when I was in my early 20s while being an active dancer, I met someone 15 years older than myself (around 36-years old, same age as current myself). He, being dependent on parents for house and expense without work nor study, used to say that “you guys might be too young to understand what I say and do….” as if he knew everything, and as someone who knew many great elder persons, I honestly couldn’t respect him much (he smiled a lot, which I loved it though). On the other hand, I met many younger dancers who tried to learn at any cost, which made me want to make efforts. That was when I started thinking seriously about “how to age well.” If you let the time pass without enriching your experience and depth as a person, you tend to fall into the dangerous thought of “now that I am adult” unconsciously instead of “now that I have gone through/done these things”.
Let me share another example about adult and child. In the winter when I turned 26, I was teaching several subjects/activities including ski. I was in charge of the beginner course for primary school children, and most children learn so fast that I was always surprised. Whats’s in common among those who learn very fast was that they all have strong motivation to improve and no matter how many times they fall, they get up immediately and try. A Japanese proverb says “fall down 7 times get up 8”, but they will not get discouraged with fall down 100 get up 101. This is what we now call “Grit” the spirit of perseverance. On the other hand, I had a chance to teach skiing to adults, and honestly, my experience was not that positive (so I might not do it again). Because I happened to have students who were “elites” in terms of a profession (lawyer, doctor, etc.) who did not have a gut to get up after falling down. Some even quit during the lesson saying “why do I have to be embarrassed like this (the state of falling down)?”
Another Japanese proverb I liked is “Mochi wa mochiya” which means “leave it to rice cake specialist if you want it (or better leave it to a specialist)”. Just because you became a specialist in one area, it does not mean you are in other areas. If you let sushi master with 60 years of experience ceil a ship, he will drown shortly (grabbing handle, not sushi).
As learning is limitless, if you are not prepared to be a beginner, you will eventually stop learning something new. To exemplify, let me share some background of how I started teaching. I was a school teacher in the US, and the director asked me to teach it despite the fact that I had not even practiced for almost 20 years. Where did I go? To youtube. I learned all the theories in my head, and learn in practice while teaching. That’s when I fully realized it is never too late to learn. To send exactly the same message, I re-practiced head-spin (breakdance) for my 31st birthday.
Of course, as you age, you can do more things (e.g. drinking beer, going to a nightclub, working legally, traveling by yourself, buying what you want), so some children/adolescents want to be an adult badly. I was no exception, especially when I was a teacher, this baby face young teacher was easily looked down on by tough parents, so I tried to look older (maybe leaving my mustache which doesn’t grow much might be part of that habit).
Ok, it was a quite long introduction to say that from my point of view, the difference between a child and adult is that the former likes to play and learn faster without any pride, whereas adult tends to dislike failing along with more responsibility in one (different) area.
I believe one of the big reasons for these attributes to the education system. Look at a new-born baby who starts learning crawl and mother tongue by making mistakes and imitating in a natural way. Then once they are in a school, especially primary school (although recently some preschools teach what primary schools teach such as literacy and numeracy), they will be taught not to make mistakes. Those who have been through that system will be more or less produced as an adult who is afraid of errors. The critiques point out that despite the minor changes over the last decades, the education system still takes a 200+-year-old outdated system which started to produce literate and obedient workers for the industrialized revolution. Although I have been to that factory-like education system, probably I was a defective product so I did not grow as an anti-mistake product. For example, I learned (am learning) several languages after graduating formal education (university). The link between learning and mistakes are closely connected, and there is no former without the latter.
Although I introduced previously, I really believe in what Henry Ford once said
Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.
To analyze what kind of adult I became, let me compare my 18-year-old self and 36-year-old self.
My 18-year-old self
When I was 18 years old, I did not think about the above-mentioned matters, let alone the education system (again, I wasn’t a good student anyway). Or let me put this way; I just did whatever I found interesting and had no time to think in a big picture. I was in a ska band (playing trombone) in Osaka, and spent another year for university (as I was stupid enough to forget filling out one paper for entrance exam). Nevertheless, I became into fashion and hair art, making a girlfriend, playing Gundam video game, and still kept studying and entered my aimed college. Soon after, I met with what would change my life pathーbreakdanceーand started dancing (for at least 5 years almost every day). I also started traveling by myself. So all those things happened around in my 18-year-old, which established the root of who I am now.
My 36-year-old self
18 years later, on the other hand, what kind of person did I become? If I just take a snapshot of who I am, it looks like this:
Living in Nairobi, Kenya working at UN in the area of education (30 years have passed since the convention of the rights of the child which defines children). In addition to Japanese, I speak UN languages including English, Spanish and French, and try to use survival level Portuguese, Mongolian, Chinese Mandarin, and Kiswahili. I have a family and economically independent.
If you hear a polyglot UN employee, it might sound like an elite. The truth is, I am not at all. If I look back the last 18 years, I was jumping into one area and to the other all the time: I traveled more than 50 countries as a solo backpacker, changed my identity from dancer to chef, teacher, trainer, blogger, international aid worker, etc. which deals with many changes and different chapters. I still think like a backpacker, and even within UN, I am treated like a non-specialist without getting significant roll. As a person who wishes to create constantly, I sometimes feel I might not be a good fit in a bureaucratic organization. So a real picture of myself is someone who is struggling to the status quo and trying to open the door. What I can say with full confidence is that I have been learning and will continue to do so. Nowadays, I study Portuguese and Kiswahili and study for a project management certificate. Let’s see what will happen.
Biological age, mental age, and physical age
Although I have been talking about aging, there are several types of ages, such as biological, mental and physical age. For example, a 36-year-old is biological age, which cannot be changed (no matter how many times I say I am 18 years old). On the other hand, mental age depends on how you feel (again, my 18-year-old can fit in this). There are teens who behave like elders whereas someone in her 70s who acts like a primary school age kid. The last one is the physical age, which I find very interesting. If this piles up, your body gets older and the probability of getting sick increases. Many people think this goes in line with biological age, but the research says that it is a mental age that controls physical age. That is, if you maintain your inner-yourself, your body and brain stay young, and live longer and healthier.
To the future myself: restart and growth
In comparing my 18-year-old and 36 year-old-self, things in common are having insatiable curiosity and learning desire. The difference I can see is that I learned more skills and experience compared to 18 years ago, but the desire to learn and do more things might be less than before partly because I might be more hesitant to a big change.
Having gone through different chapters (teacher, dancer, actor, chef, international aid), some people said I live many different lives. Of course, I cannot compare with the life of others, but I can say that I tried my best to do all I wanted to do (it’s not finished yet though). On the other hand, I had more stories to tell in the past and life became less dynamic. In addition, although I kept telling about 18 years old, I sometimes think “this one is quite young” or “are you still doing in your age?” and so on. This thought is such a contradiction as I kept saying age does not matter. This time, I turned 2nd 18 years old, so I would like to take this opportunity to bring my beginner’s mindset as if I returned to life and live many new lives.
I would like to live fully with both physical and mental health until the 90-year-old. The reason I said both is that I would like to maintain my spirit as a youngster (if the mental state is not healthy, the physical status will be harmed anyway). And by mentally healthy, I mean the state of learning, creating and getting excited.
Having said that, restarting is a metaphor for mindset, and it does not mean I will throw everything away to the Sky in Nairobi (e.g. throwing smartphone and computer to go back to 36 or 18 years ago). I would like to maintain my learning and expand my skills in similar areas (e.g. languages, blog, projects) and be a beginner for any new area, and follow up with my learning (which I learned from project management experience).
18-year cycle as life indicator
By writing this, I came to think that it is not such a bad idea of having cycles of 18 years old. How many times can I live an 18-year-cycle? I have a life plan of up to 90 years old (very rough), which means I can spend three more cycles (54, 72, and 90). It will be ideal to build on my learning and live eternal 18 years old. In retrospect, what I wanted to do and my thought have changed. 18 years from now, I would like to look back with so much confidence for the good past 18 years. To do so, I would like to keep running with my own rhythm, curiosity, learning desire and grit.
The goal for the next 18 years will be to be honest to myself. In other words, I will not do what I do not like much.
I am not alone
In the morning when I turned 36 years old, I just finished reading the book “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” by Haruki Murakami. I bought this a few years ago, and for some reason, I started reading recently. Although I didn’t read many of his books, I learned 3 things (great inspirations):
１．His uses many interesting metaphors that draw the audience into his world (I would like to be able to do so).
２．Long distance running is not only good for health but also teaches how to live (life is once and compete yourself instead of others)
３．To do what you want to do, you have to make full efforts and continue (just take actions)
Especially, the last point seems to be very obvious but still eye-opening. How many of us have our purpose, healthy mental and physical body and make constant efforts towards it? Maybe there are very few.
From the book, especially I liked the following paragraph: I was not asked to be a runner. Likewise, I was not asked to be a novelist, all of a sudden, I just started writing. And all of a sudden I started running. I just did what I liked to do. No matter who stopped me and criticized me, I did not change my way of doing.
It got me thinking. And as I turned the pages, accidentally I came across a chapter called “18 Till I Die” in relation to the song of Bryan Adams. I swear that I did not know about this, but it was a Wow moment to see another person who sticks to 18. I was really glad to find that I was not only.
Having written whatever I felt like for a long time, the point is this: although there are rooms for improvement, I can proudly say that I learned many things. I wish to say that it attributed to my effort, but the truth is, I would like to appreciate my parents/families who gave me a healthy body and raised me. And I should never forget that there is always someone who supports me. Asante Sana (thank you so much in Kiswahili).
The learning of this time
I learned that even passing 18 years after the last year of a child (18 years old), as long as you have curiosity, action, and efforts, you can maintain young spirit, and it is quite good to set 18-year cycle life indicator.
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