We all die. What have we learnt along the way?

In March this year, I started a Learning Marathon with Enrol Yourself, an award-winning social enterprise redesigning lifelong learning by harnessing the power of peer groups. The Learning Marathon is a 6-month peer-led learning accelerator, where you choose your own question and you structure your learning with the support of a group of others also striving for their own answers.

In September my learning journey came to an end and our peer group of learners put on a showcase — celebrating the joy of living and learning, and the clarity that comes with an ending.

The showcase theme

The author and cultural commentator David Brookes talks about the difference between our résumé virtues and our eulogy virtues.

The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace, professional accomplishments that we spin to sound better on our CVs. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or bold. Who you were. What you meant to the people who loved you. The impact you made on the lives of others. They are deeper virtues. And most of us would agree they are far more important than the virtues we exhibit on Linkedin.

I first started thinking seriously about my own eulogy when I went to my Uncles funeral a few years ago. The crematorium was packed, standing room only and there were two overflow rooms where we watched the service from TV screens. My Aunt was devastated but she stood up and shared the most beautiful eulogy I’ve ever heard, and she said one thing which completely summarised my Uncle, and which I’ve thought about almost every day since.

“He never missed an opportunity to be kind”.

It was this virtue which guided his life, and even though he’d worked at the same company for 20 years and every one of his colleagues showed up, no one once mentioned how successful his career was.

As we were putting together our Showcase, to celebrate the end of our Learning Marathon and share all we learnt — we looked for a theme that united all our questions. And we realised that on our Learning Marathon, we weren’t asking questions to create résumé virtues, to build up our CVs. We were asking questions to build our eulogy virtues, to better understand who we are. To improve our lives and the lives of those around us, not to improve our potential for career success.

We asked:

“Why don’t I know my neighbours?”
“How can we fuel and sustain joy in our everyday lives?”
“How can we design for good?”
“How might help people dwell in transition?”

We asked questions that allowed us to explore what matters to us, how we can make the most of our time together. And we did it with Enrol Yourself because we also wanted to learn from one another.

A celebration of the end

We wanted to use the Showcase to celebrate all we’ve learnt from the last 6 months. And we wanted to reflect, to write our own eulogies, to use the clarity which comes from a definitive ending as a springboard to focus on the future, on the choices we make which may one day come to define us.

To do this we created interventions; interactive elements of the night which bought the theme to life and gave people an experience of what we learnt. There was an experience of what it’s like to have ADHD from Joe, an interactive challenge of what it means to feel “better” from Sophie, and a series of readings from Josie which were perfectly timed with the tolling of the church bells, and brought the whole room together into moments of hushed reflective silence.

My learning question was “Who am I on-stage?” and so for my intervention…I did my very first clown show. I put all my learnings together and put “myself” on stage. Well, I created an alter-ego of myself and performed as “Cindy” a spin instructor/life coach. Cindy re-created the joy, euphoria and general state of confusion which I feel during a spin class by forcing everyone to get out of their seats, put their hands up and (hopefully) laugh until their faces hurt and they forgot how stupid we all looked.

We also created an envelope full of gifts for our guests. Little snapshots of what we learnt and our own reflections on what we might be able to teach others. Inside there was a guide for how to write your own eulogy, as well as postcards, poems, and prompts for reflection, to inspire moments of clarity and introspection.

The main event, however, were our own eulogies. Over the course of the night, we all spoke for 5 minutes about our journey and its impact on our lives. There were plenty of tears, as well as snorts of laughter as we talked about the ups and downs of what we experienced together. I was particularly moved by how willing everyone was to be open about their struggles, the personal reasons why we asked the questions that we did. The difference between what we set out to learn, and what we actually achieved.

The thing which stuck with me is that none of us really found “the answer” to our questions. And that’s ok. This was just the beginning of the life long learning journey.

What I learnt is that sometimes the answers don’t matter. It’s enough to ask the question.