Never Stop Learning

Published in the February 2013 Issue Published online: Feb 18, 2013 Tyler J. Baum, Editor
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My job requires me to interview a lot of people. Every time I interview a grower or a business owner for a product/service growers need, it never ceases to amaze me how much hard work and ingenuity it took for them to get where they are. I enjoy interviewing people because I learn something new every time. And I still have a lot to learn.

Ten years ago, my last semester of college-before I finally earned my bachelor's degree-was the most difficult for me. It wasn't just the work load (though that was a big part of it). It wasn't just having a wife and infant son (though, again, the lack of sleep didn't help). And it wasn't just the part-time job I had on the side or the church responsibilities. It was that I thought I was done learning.

My brain was full. No more room. I was so tired of going to classes that I (briefly) considered bailing out of school the last two months before graduation. I obviously reconsidered that potentially damning idea. In the end, not only did I feel like I truly earned that degree, but close to the end of the semester is when I truly started learning-not just reciting. I started making connections between all the classes I had taken, putting it all together until I came up with a hypothesis that I never got the chance to write as the topic of a research paper, but it's still my hypothesis. A decade later, I still stand by that hypothesis, albeit only slightly tweaked.

The truly amazing thing is what I've learned since college. I think I can say that I've learned more each year I've been out of college than I did the entire time I was there-even if you exclude what I've learned about life itself. Since college, I've read far more history and nonfiction books than I have fictional novels, from the sinking of the Titanic to the "devil's own day" battle of Shiloh during the Civil War to George Washington's strained relationship with his mother to why the Constitution was so revolutionary that it sparked a 5,000-year leap in technology in a matter of a couple hundred years.

While most people I interview have college degrees, many didn't finish their degrees, but all of them got their best education from the hands-on experience they've had since.

Jon Johnston, owner of Irrigation Accessories, was a factory-trained motorcycle mechanic in Maine in 1982. He was struggling to find motorcycle repair jobs in the middle of a recession, when he followed a girl by moving to Washington state.

While attending Clark College in Vancouver at nights, pursuing an engineering degree, he signed up with a temp service called Manpower. After he worked a few one-day jobs, they sent him on a two-week assignment with the company he later bought.

Johnston never did finish that degree, but he's learned so much at Irrigation Accessories that he helped develop a product himself that gave carrot growers a 33 percent water savings. Who needs a degree?

Our grower of the month, Aaron Troyer, missed out on earning a doctorate because of disagreements with his professors. As the general manager of Troyer Brothers FL, Inc., it's now something to chuckle at. It's clear the operation is doing just fine without it.

If you're a grower who has an idea for a new product, write it down in a notebook and then either go to work developing it or sell it to a company that has the resources to make it happen.

The education a person gets at college can be advantageous, but the education one gets from real-life experience is indispensible.

Like the old adage: When you're done learning, you're done.