Several years ago I first heard the quote about the phases of life…”Learn, Earn, Return” (there are numerous articles about it). The premise is that you spend the first third of your life learning, the second third maximizing earnings and the final third returning, or giving back. I like this concept for its simplicity.
In my experience, I’m learning, earning and returning almost all the time simultaneously. It’s been interesting for me to dig into what I do and why when it comes to those three buckets. To add perspective, I explored where I learn, earn and return, as well as how and why. I suspect the following applies, in whole or in part, to many people.
Professional life: This is a no-brainer since I spend a lot of time on professional activities. I’m learning constantly, whether through observation, being on-the-job or dedicated professional development. Earning obviously includes money but also refers to credentials, promotions, recognition and / or respect. I try to return by being a mentor, advisor and confidant, but also by creating opportunities for others.
Personal life: Learning how to be a better parent and spouse is a never-ending journey. While the earning here isn’t an inflow of money (rather, usually an outflow of money!) I enjoy the earning of love, camaraderie, inclusion and / or acceptance, whether in family life or with friends. Returning is the providing of love, friendship, guidance, safety, education, etc.
Global: For me, thinking about learning, earning and returning in a global context is similar to trying to size the universe…it hurts my brain because of its magnitude. There’s more to learn about this world than can fit into any one lifetime. Our contributions to global life are likely indicators of what we “earn” from it which for me is a sense of place (however insignificant). Lastly there are more ways to “return” globally than I can count, given the vast amount of need that exists.
Listen: How do I know what to learn in order to survive and thrive? How do I find the opportunities to earn what I need? How do I know the best way to return? We must listen to find the answers.
Build: We build knowledge, products, businesses, families and opportunities, all of which provide the ability to learn, earn and return.
Empower: Empowering ourselves (by overcoming self-doubt and striving for continuous improvement) and others (by teaching, encouraging, helping and providing opportunities) is the essence of learning, earning and returning.
Innovation: I believe innovation is an outcome of the learn, earn, return mantra. Innovation likely requires one or more individuals to harness all three phases, collectively, to achieve its full potential.
Impact: It’s easy to see how impact is a result of the return phase, however impact is also a result of learning and earning, and equally as powerful for those phases.
Fun: Most of the time I think learning, earning and returning is fun. There is certainly work involved and it’s not always 100% fun, but life would be boring without each phase.