Make the most of your me time

Dave Monk looks at the various ways now available in which we can enrich our lives by a little investment in our personal development, because after all, you're worth it?...

IT SEEMS we live in a culture of self obsession with our quest for 'me time' and our conviction that 'we're worth it'. There's a growing antipathy towards these concepts of individualism, especially among social commentators who bemoan the loss of community and social cohesion.

But I think we may be missing the point. Surely there's nothing wrong with wanting to get the most out of our time on earth. The problem may be that our attempts are misdirected. Instead of aiming at wrinkle-free skin and the perfect hair colour, should we be looking deeper into our own potential and stretching ourselves to achieve all that our bodies and minds can achieve?

I'm the last one to advocate a trip to the gym - give me a walk along Southend seafront any day. Having said that, most of us know we need to get more exercise. What I am advocating is an examination of our personal intellectual potential.

At this time of year colleges around Essex are gearing up for a new intake of students and adult education institutes are attempting to persuade us to enrol on a part-time course or two. Many of us react with a quick snort and, 'I just wish I had the time'.

Well, I suppose it depends just how 'worth it' we think we really are, doesn't it?

I know so many bright, well educated people with university degrees and professional qualifications who have immersed themselves in their chosen careers and been very successful. But have they lost sight of their ongoing personal development? They probably have to undergo continuing education for their career, and that's only right, but what about intellectual development in its broader sense? Learning about different things because they're interesting.

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Learning a language is something many of us talk about each time we return from a foreign holiday, but how many of us actually do it?

After several very pleasant Iberian holidays, Mrs M and I decided to learn Spanish so we enrolled on a Saturday morning Spanish class for dummies. There were about 14 of us at the start, all shy and worried about making fools of ourselves.

There was the bubbly lady from Royal Mail who seemed to spend most of her life working and at the oddest hours. There was the Chinese lady with an IQ the size of a continent, the foursome who always holidayed together and were determined to be able to say more than, 'dos cervezas, por favour' - well, there were four of them - and there was the enthusiastic couple who ran a successful local pub. For them, getting any time to themselves was a miracle so two hours on a Saturday morning was a big commitment.

Our teacher was Spanish, sharp, funny, friendly and with a passion for foreign travel. She saw her role as enabling us to communicate with Spanish people in everyday situations. After all, we were not intending to write Spanish literature.

We came away with a good working knowledge of 'get yourself around' Spanish, most of which I've now forgotten because I haven't used it. But surely that's not the point. We did the course 'because we're worth it'. It was our 'me time' and it was terrific fun among really nice, new people.

There are hundreds of different courses available at all academic levels, some just for fun, some to help people progress in their careers, some to enable people to embark on new careers. Many people, once they've tried one course, become hooked on education and go on to take a string of courses just to expand their horizons. Age seems to be irrelevant with many people taking up courses in their 80s.

Do I also remember reading about research that indicated that the more active we keep our brains, the longer we keep our marbles?

The cost of the courses needs some examination. Many fees have risen in the last few years as more Government emphasis has been placed on further education for the 16+ age group. Adult courses seem to have taken a bit of a hit. Even so, they are still great value for money and an excellent way to get out of the normal furrows of everyday intellectual life.

It's popular to criticise clichés, and lifelong learning may be one, but surely the phrase successfully sums up how we can be kindest to ourselves and our capabilities. Perhaps those of us who see it as an extension of a schooling system we didn't think much of first time round, should think of it as an excellent way to satisfy our natural nosiness instead.

We are 'worth it'. Our capacity for intellectual development and achievement through curiosity is immense if we make the correct decisions on how to use our 'me time'.

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