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Learning, Earning and Returning: The 3 Stages of a Fulfilling Life Essay

I attend many networking meetings, frequent educational seminars and conferences. I am a member of the Miami Young Presidents Organization and other business groups which promote business learning and networking.

With 30 years of the above experience, just last week I attended a conference and heard an expression which will have an everlasting impact on my life personally and professionally. The speaker, an accomplished banker and philanthropist, told our business audience that you should break your life into thirds and live by the expression: Learning, Earning & Returning

I wish I was so profound and philosophical that I could have thought of this powerful expression — but I didn’t. However, I will share my own perspective plus the speaker’s thoughts on this mantra.


The first third of your life you should be learning. Learn in school, learn from mentors, read, become a sponge and absorb everything. Dedicate your early years to learning — both academically and in your everyday life. Challenge yourself and push yourself.


Having three children who currently range from middle school to college, I see how important education is. And yes, your study habits do start at a young age. The discipline to learn and to want to learn begins in grammar school (when colleges will not even look at your transcripts). My oldest is now currently a sophomore at the University of Michigan in the Ross Business School and I am truly envious of her and how much she is learning.  The foundation of her academics can only benefit her regardless of her ultimate job — and her passion to learn and succeed has become infectious to my younger children. 

Regardless of which college you attend — or candidly, don’t attend, (if this path is not your calling), you can learn in many ways. Reading books, listening to audio books, attending free meetings, finding a mentor.

Of course, life is not fair. Some of us do have advantages (financial, contacts, etc) but that’s life. If you do not have these advantages, work harder and prove to yourself and others that you can overcome and persevere.


The second third of your life is earning:

Work — odds are that you will be working to earn a living to support yourself and your family. Depending on your career choice and many other factors (too many to quote in this article), your annual compensation will vary. Find an industry you love and work hard to earn to your greatest potential.


Without sounding naïve, earning money is very important to sustain our quality of life, the basics of course and some luxuries of affordability. Whether you are earning until retirement and beyond, the quality of your work for both financial and personal reasons is immeasurable. 


The third part of your life is Returning.

When the speaker first mentioned “Returning,” I didn’t understand in which context it was being used. Did Returning mean going back to your town to really understand your roots and where you came from? Did it mean returning to your childhood friends and re-establishing those lost relationships? The speaker used Returning in a philanthropic way — whether you earn $50,000 or $500,000 annually or anything in between, the latter years of your life should be returning to help those less fortunate.

Yes, the gift of giving should start in your younger years. As we mature, (I just turned 50 a few months ago, so I guess that means I’m either more mature now or just getting old), I do “get it” regarding helping those less fortunate. It’s not just about giving money. It’s about getting involved. There are many great causes — business related, family-related, religious and otherwise. Pick one close to your heart and contribute whether it be with your money, or your time — or both.


Entrepreneur is a business magazine, so allow me to spend a few minutes on the relationship between  business and philanthropy. Doing the right thing is always the “golden rule” — but it’s amazing how getting involved in a cause will also positively affect your business. Don’t join an organization with the sole purpose of exploiting relationships. Do it for “returning” and you will enjoy generous “returns” on your investment. Over time, you will develop authentic relationships with like-minded people who hold similar passions for a specific charity.


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And in closing, please indulge my poetic license. How about adding “remembering” as the fourth mantra to the previous three already discussed.

Yes, remembering where we came from, remembering who helped us along the way, and remembering our responsibility and obligation to the past.

Enjoy these simple, yet powerful expressions and remind yourself that these words and more importantly, their meanings, are a great platform to live the remainder of your life.

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