John W. Gardner : Learn all your life.

23 Dec

” One of the enemies of sound, lifelong motivation is a rather childish conception we have of the kind of concrete, describable goal toward which all of our efforts drive us. We want to believe that there is a point at which we can feel that we have arrived. We want a scoring system that tells us when we’ve piled up enough points to count ourselves successful.

So you scramble and sweat and climb to reach what you thought was the goal. And when you get there, you stand up and look around and chances are you feel a little empty. Maybe more than a little empty.

You wonder whether you climbed the wrong mountain.

But the metaphor is all wrong. Life isn’t a mountain that has a summit. Nor is it – as some suppose – a riddle that has an answer. Nor a game that has a final score.

Life is an endless unfolding and — if we wish it to be — an endless process of self-discovery, an endless and unpredictable dialogue between our own potentialities and the life situations in which we find ourselves. By  potentialities I mean not just intellectual gifts but the full range of one’s capacities for learning, sensing, wondering, understanding, loving and aspiring.

Perhaps you think that by age 35 or 45 or even 55 you will have explored those potentialities pretty fully. Don’t deceive yourself! The capacities you actually develop to the full come out as the result of an interplay between you and life’s challenges – and the challenges keep coming. And the challenges keep changing ”

―  John W. Gardner, the Haas Professor of Public Service,

Stanford’s 100th Commencement Ceremony address 1991


This is one of the best talks on personal renewal that  have come across. I discovered the  late Stanford professor’s talk only recently. I have always wondered if there is a blue print for one’s journey and there is none.

As the noted American public servant and professor says ” The capacities you actually develop to the full come out as the result of an interplay between you and life’s challenges – and the challenges keep coming. And the challenges keep changing.”

I have often tried to find reference points for my experiences and  found none. May be lacked a mentor. May be was too much of a rebel. May be life just dealt a different card. I made mistakes. Big mistakes.  My math teacher had once told me when was sixteen ” No man is an island..” I became a island.

Sometimes wish father had lived longer, a friend stayed longer or a early success. I have seen one success creating tremendous ripple effects. I so wish…

I also feel suffering has no meaning unless it leads to something, something greater or something changes in you. It is also relative, suffering pales in comparison. May be we should make it count.  I was feeling low while driving back home at night today only to see a boy in a wheel chair stuggling to cross a narrow chaotic street, yesterday at a traffic signal had called a poor girl, who has to put on a act every day to carry a cripple on her shoulder for some money, she asked for water, she bought a bottle, poured water from my bottle to hers. I smiled at her, she smiled back, realised we both are same…intense and ….

But am lucky in a way have met my heroes. My school friends and teachers. Where will I end up, have no idea, hopefully somewhere better..

Goodnight dear friends. Please do read John W Gardner, Stanford’s 100th Commencement Ceremony address..

Life is a constant journey in learning. Yes also grit.If so life happens to you this way..

Love, Suresh



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