Every act of conscious learning requires the willingness to suffer an injury to one’s self-esteem. That is why young children, before they are aware of their own self-importance, learn so easily. ~Thomas Szasz

We have all experienced the adrenaline rush that can only be associated with thoughts of summer ending and a new year of school beginning.

The universal anxious feelings of returning to school each autumn are a part of growing up. As I write this article during the height of summer, I have pangs of nostalgia and sadness…and joy, as I think to September 2017. My youngest son will begin his senior year at Gibraltar, and I am left with disjointed feelings of disbelief and pride.

How did we get here already? Wasn’t it just yesterday that he boarded the bus for the very first time to join his kindergarten class? And wait…if he is a senior already, what does that say about my time…where did it go?

I’ll be honest, the older I get, the faster I perceive time passing by. While I hang on for the ride, I am a greater and greater believer in the quote that “youth is wasted on the young!”

Autumn is a perennial reminder that change is ever-present and unavoidable. During our youth and teenage years, autumn represents the end of summer fun and the beginning of a new year of formal learning. Some kids approach this shift with excitement and enthusiasm while others view it with dread, anxiety and fear.

During our college years, the line begins to blur between summer and autumn as internships give us our first taste of pending careers and the end of careless summers, seasonal jobs and late nights.

By the end of my four years at Marquette University, I was ready to be done with school. I had studied hard, earned good grades, undertaken four internships, made great friends...but I was ready to start my professional career. I would often times stare up at the buildings in Milwaukee and imagine what it must be like to have an office of one’s very own. I dreamed of having that experience.

I didn’t need to wait long as my final internship offered me a full-time position six months prior to graduation. What a dream come true! Little did I know, at the time, that I would only stay one year and then begin a more creative professional journey. That journey lead me to Scotland, Minneapolis, St. Cloud, Belgium, Switzerland and then, back to Door County—all in 14 years.

I have always been a restless soul and have craved the experiences traveling and learning provided. Had someone told me when I was 18 that I would return to Door County 18 years later, I would have told them to “think again.” It wasn’t that I didn’t love growing up here…it was just that I didn’t envision myself living back in a rural environment until I was ready to retire…if even then.

The hum of the city was what I craved. And for 18 years it served me well but the call to “home” was ringing in my ears and I chose not to only hear it…but to listen to it as well.

Becoming a full-time resident of Door County again at age 35 was a completely different experience. I was now at a point in my life where I was ready to put all of my education to use, back “home.” And, man…was that a rewarding feeling.

It was also just as humbling. I realized that for as much as I knew, there was so much more I needed to learn. I had been a cog in a corporate machine for so many years, I narrowed my thinking to my “department” only. But, now as the director of the Door County Maritime Museum, I was running an entire organization. It was exciting and a bit daunting all at the same time.

I needed to learn what worked in the corporate America/Europe environment was not necessarily the same thing that worked in a not-for-profit organization. I embraced the experience and once again found myself learning. I finally understood, at that point, what I had always heard: Even if we’ve left our formal education years behind, we spend our entire lives learning.

Thus began a mission: I became eager to learn more about where I was from…the geology, the people who make up this peninsula, the plants, the birds, and, well...everything. I realized how much I didn’t know, even as a local.

Once I learned new things, I was eager to share my new-found knowledge and experiences with family, friends and the readers of the various articles I have written for Door County Magazine. The natural flora, fauna and geologic features that make up this incredible peninsula are so richly diverse, and in many cases utterly unique to our peninsula. I swell with pride that I get to call this place home.

I think of it this way: Door County is an exceptional living and breathing educational facility, since we are literally surrounded by so many interesting and diverse personal and natural histories. It’s something many communities throughout the state would crave.

Because of this abundance—and the foresight of some incredible individuals who call/called this place home—educational facilities dot the peninsula, providing us with unique opportunities to continue our life education.

In a small peninsular community of about 28,000 individuals, we are tremendously lucky to have organizations like The Clearing, the Peninsula School of Art, The Ridges, Crossroads at Big Creek—to name a few—at which to take classes.

Where else can you attend a winter lecture series as diverse and eclectic as the Door Community Auditorium’s Fireside Series? Where else can you learn to build a dory or other small boat as part of the Door County Maritime Museum’s boat building class?

And I haven’t even touched on Birch Creek Music Performance Center in Egg Harbor—the exceptional learning institution just down the road from my home. Every summer young musicians attend various sessions to master their skill with a particular instrument and a particular style of music from symphony to jazz. And, this year Birch Creek added an inaugural “Adult Band Camp” in August where adults with intermediate and medium expertise can gather to continue learning to play their instrument.

I’m also thrilled that Northeast Wisconsin Technical College’s (NWTC) Sturgeon Bay campus will be officially expanding to Northern Door, so the peninsula will have two locations for furthered technical training here in the county.

And, then there’s the popular Learning in Retirement program that runs in the autumn and early winter, providing residents a chance to take seminars that span so many topics—from exercise to art to history to computer skills and so many more—for a small membership fee. You can find the information on line at www.nwtc.edu.

Education of all types abounds here in Door County no matter what your age may be.

So, as autumn arrives, let it not be only our children who return to school. It is my hope that many of you will be encouraged to review the course listings at area organizations, attend a lecture series, sign up for a seminar, pick up a book on local birds, flora and fauna and learn more about the things that interest you most.

I, for one, will be looking for a photography class, so that I may better capture the rich beauty that nourishes my soul. I look forward to sharing what I learn in future articles and photos in my quarterly Door County Magazine “Off the Beaten Path” columns.