1391562111000-XXX-XXX-XXX-PAULEY-LIFE-BOOKS-jy-2635Just as I did several years ago, with bad heart and all, I hopped into my Honda Fit and traversed another segment of the country. This time to Florida, passing through Alabama, Mississippi and a snippet of Louisiana. Having read an article of Jane Pauley’s new book, “Your Life Calling: Reimagining the Rest of Your Life,” I downloaded the book on tape and headed off.

Published by CBS’ Simon & Schuster, “Your Life Calling: Reimagining the Rest of Your Life” is based on stories of people who have reinvented their lives and careers in middle age, introducing readers to  fascinating people featured on her Life Reimagined Today segment. Through the miles I heard of Betsy McCarthy, who traded in her executive briefcase for knitting needles; Gid Pool, who launched a career as a stand-up comic; Richard Rittmaster, who joined the National Guard Chaplain Corps; Trudy Lundgren, who took her home on the road in an RV; Paulie Gee, who opened a successful pizzeria in Brooklyn; and many more.

As a 54 year-old wanderer, adventurer and traveler, I conceptually buy Pauley’s argument. I held firm until stopping at Berry’s Seafood and Catfish House in Magee, Mississippi. While participating in a wonderful buffet, I overheard a few city leaders at an adjoining table rattle off some alarming statistics:

  • The median Magee household income is approximately $25,000
  • 24.6% of families and 28.4% of the population below the poverty line, including 42.9% of those under age 18 and 17.0% of those age 65 or over.
  • Only 18% of Magee residents have a Bachelor’s degree or higher.
  • Life for many is harsh, intense, somber and frequently brutal.

Reality returned as soon as I returned to the driver’s seat of my Fit.

Like many self-help gurus, Pauley presented beautifully illustrative stories of faith, self-realization and courage. But while faith can move mountains, it cannot reach beyond decades of inequality, lack of education and basic healthcare needs. If you’re going to make the argument that people can change their lives, we – as a society – must provide the tools to make that happen.

Pauley’s book is a good read. However, as a Buddhist, for every year one spends in school, his or her life’s chances – and those of their children – increase dramatically. Education gives people the head start they need to build a better future, not just for themselves but also for generations to come. Education equips people with the knowledge and skills they need to increase income and expand employment opportunities. When education is broadly shared and reaches the poor and marginalized groups, it holds out the prospect that economic growth will be broadly shared.

Poverty pushes children out of school and into work because parents cannot afford to educate their children. Whereas education opens doors to jobs and credit. Every year of education increases a person’s earnings 10%; with each additional year of schooling lifting the average annual GDP by 0.37%. Greater equity in education can help fuel a virtuous cycle of increased growth and accelerated poverty reduction, with benefits for the poor and for society as a whole.

You want to help find a child’s life calling or help reimage a life? Provide a college education.