My relationship with lifelong learning

Like most stories, it is a true story about the ups and downs of my relationship with learning. Why is learning an integral part of my life and hopefully will become that for many others too.

Written by Arnold Beekes, with great support from Rotana Ty.

Growing up

When I was young, I did love to inquire, research and above all read about all kind of new things. In short, I was curious. The reading was done in hard copy, either in the newspaper or in books from the library. Yes, this was long before everything became digital. I did feel like a young explorer, especially learning about all the different countries in the word, where they are and what their capitals were. I was so interested that I did learn them by head. Maybe it was even some kind of escape from daily life. In this way I could feel myself present in different environments and cultures. That was the start for my love of learning as well as my love for travelling. My first talk at school was about the flight across the ocean by Charles Lindbergh. That endeavor did inspire me quite a lot. I also did listen to the radio, not only to music but also to various talk shows. I did that secretly at night, as I was supposed to sleep. Again that experience did give me a picture of a world, much larger than my family and local city.

Learning was something that came naturally and was effortless. It was a kind of addiction. It was like: the more you know, the more you know you don’t know and the more you want to learn.

High School

That situation did change when I did attend high school. There I had to learn about topics in which I was not particularly interested (like chemistry). And there was a huge pressure from my father to get (very) good grades. That pressure was the cause of loosing my love for learning. Learning became performing! Love was no longer the drive for learning, but it was fear. Fear that my father would be angry if I didn’t get a good grade. There was a switch from ‘love to learn’ to ‘should learn’.

At the same time, I didn’t know what my profession was going to be: I had no idea at all. So, I did choose to learn about as many topics as possible to make sure that I didn’t miss out on anything. Therefore the broadness of my interests and knowledge was still being sustained. ‘Not Knowing’ became something which was a regular state of mind. I was personally okay with that ‘not knowing’ but society is constantly forcing you to make a choice. And basically that choice helps them to put you in a box, to label you. That creates pressure as well.


I first started to study economics in university. But that didn’t work out, as I didn’t get good grades (so, my father was angry and disappointed) and I did find it a total theoretical concept with not much connection to reality. Then I did switch to studying law, which I did love because of its practical relationship to what was happening in society and because of the possibility to include a wide range of topics. Fortunately my curiosity did resurface again and I was pretty happy, which resulted in good grades (so we were both happy, my father and I). This is another example that if you have the love for learning, the learning itself becomes easy and effortless.

Being an employee

In my work as an employee in large multinationals, there was no formal learning plan. Every few years I was asked to do a different assignment. That means that I had to learn about the new culture, jargon and people in that particular area (e.g. from marketing to sales to business management to operations). It was literally learning on and in the job. Sometimes there was a training, but that was more to get to know about the use of a certain (software) product. Most of the time I really enjoyed myself, as my need for being nurtured by newness, was constantly fuelled by new experiences. Also my global interest and curiosity was sparked by international assignments, responsibilities and travel.

Over time I did switch from reading the top-quality newspaper in The Netherlands to reading The Economist. I did find that the national newspaper had a rather narrow view and not much international news was included. And from a very young age I do feel myself a global citizen, with interest in what is happening all over the world.

Being an entrepreneur

The switch from being a Corporate employee to being a coach/consultant/entrepreneur was quite tough. A lot of what I had learned was not useful/applicable any more. There were two reasons for that:

  1. There is a huge difference in how the market sees and treats you. If you are a Corporate employee it is for instance easy to get appointments, just because you are a representative form a large company. If you are a (solo) entrepreneur or freelancer or are part of an small business you are treated like being stupid and not interesting. The old paradigm of ‘big is beautiful’ is still alive and has a large shadow.

2. There is a huge shift happening in society, which makes a lot of what we have learned irrelevant. I call this the shift from the Industrial Age to the Connection Age. For example you can’t take half a year to write a business plan and then execute it to the letter.

A new game with new rules

A lot of what we have learned is not adequate for this new Connection Age. We also are not taught about many other — important — life areas, like food, health, meditation, personal change etc. So, I was kind of forced to be an explorer again and to research,write and therefore learn about these new topics. That is a lot of fun and I love it. At the same time I do feel somewhat angry and frustrated that the institutions who are chartered with education (parents, schools, universities) are not providing the tools, which we need to thrive in this Connection Age. I can still recall at meeting in December 2011 with The Rotterdam School of Management in which they said that they were not interested in teaching about sustainability. They also did show no interest in service innovation (Dutch economy is more than 90% a service-economy). And topics like behavior change (positive psychology) or employee engagement didn’t peak any interest either. For the moment they would stick to their old program. That was a shocking experience, because I first doubted whether I would be good enough to teach there. Then it was obvous that I was (light) years ahead in my thinking and learning.

The challenge of being young (again)

This makes me sad. Many young people who have finished their education have been given a (learning) toolset, which is incomplete and inadequate. While we say that the young generation is our future, we largely have abandoned them and left them in the cold. Many of these young people are either unemployed or underemployed (working in a McJob). Because of financial constraints they also have started to live again with their parents.

‘Not Knowing’ is especially for young people a reality. For a long time it was a taboo. We were not allowed to say “I don’t know”: that was a sign of weakness. However with all the rapid changes in society, it is impossible to know everything. It is a sign of strength and courage to show your vulnerability and to admit that you don’t know. We all have to learn to deal with this ‘Not Knowing’.

Learning is love; love is learning

It is therefore that I want to disrupt the education industry by guiding people to take control of their own lives and learning.

Learning should be fun, just-in-time and lean. Learning is all about love, basically about the love for yourself and your own growth.

It takes a mindset-shift to get there. If we think differently about learning, we feel differently about learning. Think back about your childhood, it was fun to be curious and to discover your world. That curiosity is still inside of us and it is looking for being nurtured. It is really fun and fulfilling to be an explorer (again) of this new emerging society. Then we will move away from being passive consumers into being active citizens.

We have to forget the notion that (most) learning is finished when we finish school or university. Learning is a lifelong activity, if you don’t do that you will quickly become irrelevant.

Sharing learning

There are so many bright people in the world, who can share their knowledge, wisdom, insights and experiences with others. In this way learning becomes an integral part of the connected society.

Above all, we need to regain our natural curiosity and love for learning That is why we have started with a mission to ignite the ‘Love for Lifelong Learning’.

‘Love for Lifelong Learning’ enables you to learn:

  • To deal with the Unknown (Not Knowing Circles)
  • To stir your creativity (Curiosity Circles)
  • How to cope with practical challenges (Explorer Circles)

Please join our community!


From Fitting In to Flying Out