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  • Ian Henderson

Introduction: Welcome to ‘Life School’

Updated: Jun 2



A school should not be a preparation for life.

A school should be life.

- Elbert Hubbard


What’s the difference between school and life? In school, you’re taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you’re given the test first, the lesson afterwards; and in some cases, experience can be a hard teacher. Tom Wilson’s cartoon character Ziggy quips “Sometimes I think life is one big test, and I’m in the wrong classroom.” Well, not all classrooms have four walls; this classroom is actually the Planet Earth. Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Inc., wrote, “Don’t restrict learning to classrooms or mandatory programs. Have a wholistic knowledge. Seek out different experiences in life.”

After the wrestling match, an interviewer approached Bruiser in his locker room.

“What happened out there tonight, Bruiser? Just about everyone expected you to win this match.”

“I can’t understand it,” Bruiser said. “I won the rehearsal.”

We get so few opportunities in life to rehearse. Remember, this life of yours is not a practice life, you are living in real time. Life is also not a fairy tale. It‘s been my observation that many people spend their lives as if they had another one in the bank.

My life experiences have taught me that you and I get three educations in life. The first comes from our family of origin. The second from our formal schooling. The third and most intriguing learning opportunity is the sum of everyday choices we make for ourselves as adults. Some of us in dealing with life’s difficulties, or extenuating circumstances, do whatever is required to learn. Author and library lover Ray Bradbury writes, “When I graduated from high school, I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.”

If we fail to grow and learn continuously, then our lives are wasted; when growth stops, decay begins.

What is the purpose of education? Have you ever really thought about this question? Robin Williams as John Keating in Dead Poet’s Society stated, “I always thought the idea of education was to learn to think for yourself.”

Hal Urban in his book Life’s Greatest Lessons writes, “Our schools do a great job. From first grade through graduate school, they offer a multitude of courses which result in increased knowledge and valuable skills. But there is something missing in the curriculum. We don’t teach our students about life itself, about how it works and what is essential.” Unfortunately, we come into life without an owner’s manual. The most important thing we need to know in life is learning how to operate ourselves without a guide book or a set of written instructions. As Charlie Brown quips so eloquently, “In the book of life, the answers aren’t in the back.”

One night, in ancient times, three horsemen were riding across a desert. As they crossed the dry bed of a river, out of the darkness a voice called, “Halt!” They obeyed. The voice told them to dismount, pick up a handful of pebbles in their pockets and remount. The voice then said, “You have done what I commanded. Tomorrow at sun-up you will be both glad and sorry.” Mystified, the horsemen rode on.

When the sun rose, they reached into their pockets and found that a miracle had happened. The pebbles had been transformed into diamonds, rubies, and other precious stones. They remembered the warning. They were both glad and sorry-glad they had taken some and sorry they had not taken more. And that is the story of education.

Sam had just completed his first day at school. “What did you learn today?” asked his mother. “Not enough I guess,” said Sam. “I have to go back tomorrow.” If we fail to grow and learn continuously, then our lives are wasted; when growth stops, decay begins. Should we choose to be a lifetime learner, we have made the choice to be a continuing work in progress. So, it all comes down to choice, evolve or repeat. And for life-long learners, the learning never stops because life never stops teaching. All life events are formative no matter what age; they all contribute to what we become day by day and year by year. Warren Buffet states, “We’re here to go to bed a little wiser than when we woke up.”

You will be presented with lessons in every circumstance that surfaces in your life.

One day, a four-year-old girl lined up all her dolls on the couch of her living room.

“What are you doing,” her mother asked. “I’m playing school,” she replied. “I’m the teacher and these are my prisoners.” Well. I’m not the teacher and you are not my prisoners. I will be your personal coach and companion on this journey. I do bring over 70 years of living with all the joys, frustrations, successes, setbacks and challenges, along with 45 years of experience facilitating leadership workshops on personal and professional development. In addition, I have worked the last fourteen years as a Grief and Loss educator and coach.

Have you ever asked yourself this question? Why does life keep teaching me lessons I have no desire to learn? Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood.”

Cherie Carter-Scott writes in her book, If Life Is A Game, These Are The Rules, “You are enrolled in a full-time informal school called life. Each day in this school you will have the opportunity to learn lessons. You may like the lessons or you may hate them. Each person has his or her own purpose and distinct path, unique and separate from anyone else’s. As you travel your life path, you will be presented with numerous lessons that you will need to learn in order to fulfill that purpose. You will be presented with lessons in every circumstance that surfaces in your life. As you travel through your lifetime, you may encounter challenging situations that others don’t have to face, while others spend years struggling with challenges that you don’t need to deal with. The only thing you can count on for certain is that you will be presented with all the lessons that you specifically need to learn; whether you choose to learn them or not is entirely up to you.” Trust that life is giving you exactly what you need practice in; remember, what is meant for you won’t pass you by. One thing to remember about the school of experience is that it will repeat the lesson if you flunk the first time.

Carter-Scott continues, “Have you ever noticed that lessons repeat themselves? Does it seem as if you married or dated the same person several times in different bodies with different names? Have you run into the same type of bosses over and over again? Do you find yourself having the same problem with many different coworkers? Several years ago, Bill Murray starred in a movie called Groundhog Day, in which he woke up in the same day over and over until he learned all the lessons he needed to in that one day. The same events kept repeating themselves until he finally got what it was he was supposed to do in each one. Does this strike a funny but familiar chord with you?” Growth is often uncomfortable, messy, and full of feelings you weren’t expecting; the pain will leave once it has finished teaching you.

Does ‘everything’ happen for a reason? Personally, I would tend to question that statement to include ‘everything.’ In a Peanuts cartoon, Charlie Brown states, “Sometimes I lie awake at night and ask, “Why me?” Then a voice answers, “Nothing personal, your name just happened to come up.” Sometimes you will just be subject to random happenings; there may not be a necessity to learn any specific lesson. I do, however, believe in the majority of cases, each of us will be presented with necessary problems and challenges whose purpose is to teach us a life lesson.

While interviewing the legendary Jack Nicklaus, a reporter once remarked, “Jack, you have had a spectacular career. You really know your way around the course. What is your secret?” Nicklaus replied, “The holes are numbered.” Well, should you decide to join me in this school of discovery, you will find a more informal curriculum. The lessons are not numbered. You can do the lessons in the order they are presented or feel free to jump to any lesson at any time if you choose. Some lessons you may be familiar with and perhaps a review is in order. Some you may find easy and some may be hard and very challenging. Some of the lessons may even require changing long-held habits. In some situations, you are going to play the role of participant-observer in your life. It is as though you are watching yourself in a movie. You learn to develop a sense of awareness, almost like stepping out of yourself to see yourself more clearly. As you watch yourself, you do not evaluate or judge. You likely will discover you have particular response patterns that you use over and over.


Growth is often uncomfortable, messy, and full of feelings you weren’t expecting; the pain will leave once it has finished teaching you.

Marlo Thomas, an American actress and writer, in her book, The Right Words at the Right Time, discusses how someone can have a life-long impact on us just by uttering a phrase or statement that resonates with us. Her father told her, “I raised you to be a thoroughbred. Thoroughbreds wear blinders; they don’t look at other horses. They run their own races.” She concludes, “I’ve tried to run my own race my whole life.” That special someone for me was my dad. He always encouraged me to keep a questioning mind, be curious, and to maintain a positive attitude. But perhaps the one thing I remember most about him was this one phrase he first shared with me when I was six years old, “Son, it’s a wasted day if you don’t learn something new.” I may not have understood the significance of that statement at that young age, but it stuck with me and I am forever thankful to him for sharing that wisdom. Judy Dench was quoted in a recent interview, “I want to learn something new every day. I try to. I learn new words. I love it.” On her right wrist is a tattoo of her personal motto, “Carpe Diem” (seize the day). She had it done for her 81st birthday.

This is not a school where you have to rush. There is no reward for speed. Your task is to keep growing and learning as we go along. Learning should never be a race for information; it’s a walk of discovery. By going slow, you have the time to think, to look around, to really absorb and to allow new insights to emerge.


Take the time to practice and develop patience. Impatience takes away joy. It tells you that you are wanting something that is somewhere else instead of focusing on the opportunity presented in the here and now. Develop the habit of being wholly present.

In each lesson, I’ll sprinkle in a few anecdotes, spice it up a bit with some humor, all with the hope of making this learning as exciting, and interesting as possible. Learning should be a joy and full of excitement, not a conducted tour through a prison. Learning should be life’s greatest adventure.

Each lesson, including this introduction, will include a section entitled, “Food for Thought.” It’s kind of a mental gymnasium. Here you will find thought provoking questions, an occasional personal challenge that I trust you will find both interesting and stimulating.

To look is one thing.

To really see what you look at is another.

To understand what you see is a third.

To learn from what you understand is still something else.

But to act on what you learn is all that really matters.

Kobe Bryant once stated, “I can’t relate to lazy people. We don’t speak the same language. I don’t understand you. I don’t want to understand you.”

A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.

In one of Aesop’s Fables, we read this story. One summer’s day, a Fox was strolling through an orchard until he came across a bunch of grapes just ripening on a vine which had been trained over a lofty branch. “Just the thing to quench my thirst,” quoted he. Drawing back a few paces, he took a run and a jump and just missed the bunch of grapes. Turning around again with a One, Two, Three, he jumped up but again with no success. Again, and again he tried, but at last gave up and walked away with his nose in the air saying, “I am sure they are sour.” Never in life allow yourself to be subject to the Lazy Rule: Can’t reach it, don’t need it.

This is an active blog. I would encourage you to be an active participant. Don’t be like Snoopy, who in one of my favorite Peanut cartoons, states, “Lazy is a very strong word. I like to call it Selective Participation.” To get the full benefit of this earth school, it is essential for you to participate fully.

I readily admit I have an obsession with quotes, because often, other people are so much better at putting my feelings into words that I am. I will be borrowing and referencing numerous quotes from both well and lesser known people. I have tried not to misquote or mis-spell a name and have tried to be accurate in crediting sources as I found them. I will be completing each lesson with a section entitled, ‘Words I Wish I Had Written.’ Work with the quotes section weekly, even daily by reviewing the quotes. How do they speak to you? How do they ruminate with you? Great discussion topics for family, friends and business colleagues.

I would recommend you create a workbook to do these exercises. There’s something about seeing your words written in ink, on paper that can have a powerful effect on your mind.

Ashleigh Brilliant once penned, “Bring me a dictionary: I want to know the meaning of life.” I read recently where one individual said, “A perfect metaphor for my life would be like someone trying to stand up in a hammock.” Ellen DeGeneres adds, “Like most of us humans, I am always searching for answers. Sometimes I don’t even know the question, and yet I need the answer. Sometimes, I know the answer, and I need the question, but that’s only when I’m watching Jeopardy.”

Speaking of Jeopardy, host Alex Trebek, after 36 years on the television quiz show states, “I hope I have been an influence on the benefits of emphasizing the importance of knowledge. It enriches you and makes you a better human being.”

I have a sign on display when you first enter the house. It says, ‘Welcome to our perfectly imperfect life.’ Life certainly is sometimes imperfect and often challenging. Do you have some limiting beliefs that may be holding you back? Are you open to challenging yourself to move out of your comfort zone? A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there. You were not born to be mediocre. Imagine what life would be like if we had no courage to try anything new. Throughout the lessons, when you’re going to do something new, challenge yourself to do it with enthusiasm and commitment.

If you enjoy puzzles, you should enjoy life. So, if you are puzzled about life in general, or just enjoy the process of learning, or want to participate just for the fun of it, join me for what I trust will be an exciting adventure in personal growth and discovery. Mae West wrote the following, “You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.”

Every next level of your life will demand a different version of you. This will be an on-going theme as we progress together on this adventure. I always like to think of myself as a ‘Continuing Work in Progress.’ After all, are we not all lifetime learners?

‘School’ is now in session!

Are you present?


What is the difference between living and just existing?

What has life taught you recently?

What is the biggest lesson you learned in childhood?

Are you learning something new every day?

Choose one quote every day or perhaps one or two every week if you like. How do these quotes speak to you? What applications do you see in your life? Share your chosen quotes with a family member, a friend, a business colleague. Create a ‘quote of the day’ club at work.


Life is a series of movements from one chair to another.

- Austin O’Malley

Tomorrow hopes we have learned something from yesterday.

- John Wayne

The man who views the world at fifty the same as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life.

- Muhammed Ali

Not all learning comes from books. You have to live a lot.

- Loretta Lynn

Life is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved.

- W.B. Yeats.

Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty of eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind going.

- Henry Ford

I am learning all the time. The tombstone will be my diploma.

- Eartha Kitt

I think of life as a good book. The further you get into it, the more it begins to make sense.

- Rabbi Harold Kushner

My education began with a set of blocks which had on them roman numerals and letters of the alphabet. It is not yet finished.

- Calvin Coolidge

No matter what your occupation is, your chief occupation is to always be a student.

- Francis Bacon

The best educated human being is the one who understands most about the life in which he is placed.

- Helen Keller

Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.

- Soren Kierkegaard

Exploration is not something you retire from. It is part of one’s life ethic.

- Roberta Bonda

You must be willing to let life itself become your teacher.

- Jon Kabat-Zinn

If I am through learning, I am through.

- John Wooden

The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you.

- B.B. King

Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.

- Chinese Proverb

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.

- Aristotle

Learning is like a magic carpet that transfers you to new enlightenment and understanding.

- Sally Field

Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.

- Albert Einstein

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.

- Nelson Mandela

If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.

- Derek Bok


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