The “good life” of learning
It would be hard to find two more disparate figures in history than physicist Albert Einstein and American Civil War general Robert E. Lee—who has been the subject of much controversy in recent months. These two men did however have something in common: a belief in the importance of lifelong learning. Einstein said: “intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death,” while Lee declared, “the education of a man is never completed until he dies”.
Their shared sentiment has never been more relevant than in our present, knowledge-driven, social media-connected and globally-competitive time. The world appears to have shifted—make that fast-forwarded—into a higher gear, propelled by the cyber and tech-driven developments engulfing our lives.
Taking poll position on the information superhighway is the Millennial Generation. Whether they were born in London or Lagos, Manchester or Manila, the Millennials are the “old hands” of the tech revolution. Raised amid the level educational playing field of the Internet, the “learning generation”, born between 1980 and 2000, considers knowledge as something that should be shared for empowerment and should not be zealously guarded as a symbol of power.
Their desire for personal growth goes hand-in-hand with their career development. Nearly 60 per cent of Millennials said they would pick a job with strong potential for professional development over one with regular pay rises. Additionally, 53 per cent of this supposedly “job-hopping generation” said they would remain in a company for a long time if they were given access to learning or career development opportunities .
With their unbridled love of learning in both their personal lives and their careers, Millennials may be onto something in their pursuit of a life well lived. US psychoanalyst Carl R. Rogers, in On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy, theorised that the real “good life” does not come through a fixed state or a sense of material fulfilment, but from a continual openness to experience and the embracing of challenges, thereby achieving self-actualisation.
“I believe it will have become evident why, for me, adjectives such as happy, contented, blissful, enjoyable, do not seem quite appropriate to any general description of this process I have called the good life…more generally fitting are adjectives such as enriching, exciting, rewarding, challenging, meaningful,” he wrote.
“This process of the good life is not, I am convinced, a life for the faint-hearted. It involves the stretching and growing of becoming more and more of one's potentialities. It involves the courage to be. It means launching oneself fully into the stream of life…”
Even though we may choose to settle and go with the flow rather than take Rogers’ advice, it does us good, personally and professionally, to set sail into unchartered waters and learn from the unknown. The benefits of lifelong learning are plentiful. A study of adult learners in the UK and several other European nations found that they dealt better with social challenges and have a greater purpose in life, better health and mental wellbeing .
As dental professionals, we are required to stay up to date with the rapid changes in our profession, from technological advances to the effective use of social media in our practice marketing and promotion campaigns. How we plan our educational choices can also make a difference to our professional development and success. A senior dentist listed the six most important rules he learned during his career, ranging from being open and flexible in his decision-making to appreciating the contribution of his staff. Ranked first was the following statement: “there is no substitute for education and experience” .
“All dentists are created equal when we graduate. From there, the differentiating factor comes with advanced training, continuing education, and a willingness to continue to learn and experiment. The greatest lessons we learn come from our failures,” he wrote.
The newly-introduced continuing professional development (CPD) requirements from the General Dental Council (GDC) emphasise lifelong learning with a focus on the quality of the selected CPD rather than the quantity of courses taken or training received . The willingness to learn is vital for all dental professionals, but especially those in the rapidly-changing field of cosmetic dentistry. Leading the way is the British Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (BACD), which was founded in November 2003 and aims to provide a forum for dentists to share their knowledge and experience.
Its commitment to promoting quality cosmetic dentistry is also demonstrated through accreditation, a stringent process for which UK dentists must prove that they have the ability to perform cosmetic dentistry of the highest standard. Successful candidates each receive an accreditation plaque that confirms that they are accredited members of the BACD.
There is no substitute for the value of learning in our personal and professional lives. Our lives are our classrooms and the knowledge acquired in life will enrich us to finally make the grade.
Editorial note: A complete list of references is available from the publisher.