U program to lend inspiration as boomers ‘grow up’

Who am I now?

That’s the question a new University of Minnesota endeavor is challenging baby boomers to ask themselves. But rather than answering the question just once, the idea is to keep asking it all the way up the age ladder. Something like: Who do I want to be when I grow up?

A few dozen influential Twin Citians pondered the question as they gathered by invitation last week at Eastcliff, the university president’s residence in St. Paul, for cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and a sneak preview of LearningLife. Creators call it a “learning community,” and its smorgasbord of learning choices includes such surprises as creating a discussion group of your choice, social networking and starting a personal blog.

It’s not just for the elite. Boomers and others who visit the website can sign up for free membership in the community. The only prerequisites: an interest in staying current, taking some chances, feeding your mind and doing some good. “What’s behind this is an audience that’s ready for it,” Mary Nichols told a roomful of guests at the event. As dean of the university’s College of Continuing Education, she will oversee the learning community she calls “much bigger than a classroom.”

What’s next?
Don McNeil came to Eastcliff standing at a threshold of transition. Born in 1946, the first year of the baby boom, McNeil has left a long career as curator of the corporate art collection at General Mills. He continues to do some work for the company as well as other corporations. He thinks about shaping his life differently but isn’t sure in which directions he wants to go. “There’s this feeling I can do almost anything I want to do,” he said. And it’s the “discovery aspect” awaiting him that intrigues him most.

Discovery is what LearningLife is all about, Nichols told the crowd. Three themes will guide participants’ experience: living and working (with attention to health, well-being and a sense of purpose), learning for pleasure and purpose, and creating a legacy. Co-creation, creativity and community input will be central themes in the initiative. And along with newer opportunities, LearningLife will encompass the school’s existing Compleat Scholar, Great Conversations and Split Rock Arts Program, and other classes, workshops and lectures.

‘Staying engaged’
Julianne Bye, a mid-range baby boomer and a YWCA director of fundraising, said she believes many people in her generation want to keep learning. And keep working, too. “I’m not sure if we ever want to fully retire, but to stay young and stay engaged, even as our bones creak,” she said. “The fountain of youth is staying engaged.” Among LearningLife classes she heard about, she thinks she might like learning to blog.

The learning community will officially launch at its LearningLife Fest on Dec. 1 at the Continuing Education and Conference Center on the U of M’s St. Paul campus. Cost is $80 for the 9:30 a.m.- to- 4:30 p.m. program, which includes a mini-expo, a choice of interactive sessions and stories from people who are living with purpose and passion. You can learn more here.

Twin cities author and career counselor Richard Leider will be one of two keynote speakers at the event. “Something big is coming,” he told those at the Eastcliff gathering. “This group is really about to reinvent themselves.”

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