Learner Stories



We’re two thousand feet above a small airfield near the village of Villeneuve, twenty minutes outside of Edmonton. I’m sitting in the narrow front seat of a small, single engine airplane. Behind me is my flying instructor, and he’s not happy. We’ve been practicing landings and each contact with Mother Earth has sent us bouncing back into the air as I struggle to find the right formula for a perfect three-point touchdown. “You’ve got to get lined up with the runway sooner,” Kory says “….. and maintain that altitude with the nose just a little below the horizon.” Rubber meets pavement ever so briefly before we’re flung once again trampoline-style back into the sky. “That was terrible. I thought for a moment you might do something right, but no. Nada. Nothing.”

You have to understand that I do not aspire to be a commercial pilot. There is no captain’s seat of a Concord or Fighting Falcon in my future. I just want to be able to drive out to a short airstrip in the country and look down on the cattle. And know that I’m able to, anytime I want.

Right now, that goal seems a long way off, as I feed Kory’s disgust at a-hundred-and-fifty dollars an hour.

It doesn’t seem fair!

I’m fifty-nine years old. I’m the Creative Director of a medium sized and growing advertising agency. I have a staff of ten in my department. I have awards on my shelf. I make good money and have done so for much longer than Kory has been on the planet. And yet for the moment, everything that really matters to me is in the hands of a kid fresh out of school and dreaming of a gig as a co-pilot with WestJet.

“Villeneuve Tower, India Bravo Bravo is downwind left-hand for thirty-four, touch-and-go.”

Here we go again!

All of the above is history, and time flies. A year into the mission and now sixty years old, I have my private pilot’s license. I’ve even been cleared to fly in the mountains and I’m just a few flights away from a night rating. Slip these surly bonds, indeed.

I e-mailed word of my aerial achievements to my son in Vancouver and he responded: “Great. Another old man flying around the mountains at night… just what we need!”

I’ve learned that learning when you don’t have to, is different. Acquiring new skills, not just because they’ll bring you more money or greater opportunities in the workforce or more social status, is something special. It brings you into the company of a diverse group of people who are driven to a particular interest for a variety of reasons. Within your new student group, you’re known not by what you’ve done, but by what you do …. and that presents a challenge that forces you to be honest with yourself. You stop resting on your laurels and start re-inventing yourself. There’s also the fun and satisfaction of entering a new world which is at once unfamiliar and friendly, and in which the growth you experience is genuine, and not just an extension of something you did a long time ago.

A friend of mine graduated from university many years ago as a mathematician, and became one of the first employees of a fledgling software company called Microsoft. Today, she is wealthy beyond imagination. Barb could spend the rest of her life calling all the plays and basking in the admiration and envy of everyone she comes into contact with. Instead, she’s gone back to school and struggling with an MBA. After years of being the teacher, she’s finally progressed to student status. She has a whole new set of plans; of things she wants to do and achieve with her newly acquired skills. Skills she doesn’t need to make a living but which she sees as making a life.

New learning means new challenges, new friends, a new sense of
self-confidence and a fresh sense of youth.