Several of my recent posts have been reflective in nature, and I’m sure there’s a reason for that. I’m trying to work out some of the thoughts and emotions that have been stored up in me for some time.
I believe that in our personal processing, we often end up sharing some of our most important discoveries. My hope is that this post, along with the others, actually helps you in your own seeking and discovering process.
Lately, education, in particular, has been on my mind.
I have especially been thinking about the many different ways everyone learns, and how our education systems are still largely set up to ignore this reality.
I have personally benefited, and even healed, from simply acknowledging the different ways I learn. As I share my own experience, I invite you to free yourself from fears connected to comparison, inadequacy, and “wrongness,” and to believe—even celebrate—that you are you for a reason.
Your specific ways of learning are present for a reason. They’re saying, “Hey, we’re here and ready when you are. There’s a whole world to discover. Want to take the next step together?”
There’s No Formula
I’ve benefited in so many ways from various forms of school. Still, the normal path of education in our society didn’t always work for me.
In fact, I quit kindergarten. Then, at home, I rolled around on the floor to try to get out of schoolwork. I can only assume that was my body’s way of saying, This is literally painful.
A couple of my siblings also struggled with school. By “struggled,” I don’t mean we got bad grades. In fact, we almost always got As. For us, Bs (and certainly anything less) were bad.
It would take me time to learn that good grades in life don’t always reflect a high internal score of happiness. You can “score high” in all kinds of areas and still be miserable.
But all that to say, I always knew that the whole “like school/don’t like school” thing wasn’t due to environment. Some of my siblings, raised in the same environment as I was, thrived in the traditional classroom setting. It worked for them.
Of course it did. Again, we all learn differently.
Realities like this one are often right there in front of us. It’s just hard to see them when we have to wade through systems that make it seem those realities don’t exist.
But that’s a mouthful. What I really want to say is that I hope you take some time this coming year to pay attention to the ways you learn, and to respond. It’ll be worth it.
Traditional, Hands-On, & Creative Learning
You can learn in endless ways. By considering just a few styles of learning, you’ll see how different each can be.
Traditional: I use the word “traditional” to encapsulate the type of school most people are familiar with—lectures, research papers, and a lot of reading. I’ve personally come to enjoy this form of learning more over the years—especially in certain seasons of life—but it’s not my go-to style of learning.
Maybe it is for you. And if it is, I would encourage you to make the most of your love for traditional models of education. These models have laid out paths for you that can work to your advantage. Since the system is, for the most part, built for you, make the most of it.
Hands-On: Personally, I’ve always needed more experiential, hands-on learning. I think we can all benefit from this form of learning, but I actually need it. Since my early years of life, I was drawn to experience the world through my senses. Whenever I was involved, or invited into an experience, I learned the most.
These truths naturally led me to start college as an Aviation major. I flew planes. It can’t get much more hands-on than that. When I later transferred to complete an English degree, I took an acting class at the same time and was on as many film sets as possible. The acting and filmmaking experience was just as important, if not more important, than my actual degree.
If you’re a hands-on learner, consider avenues of education that will allow you to experience and learn at the same time. You’ll have to invest a little extra time and energy than everybody else, because you’ll probably still have to go through the traditional system as well. But take it from me: the extra learning is worth it; in fact, it’s what you’ll probably remember most.
Creative: Maybe, like me, you experience life in the fullest way through creativity—through having the drum sticks in your hands and feeling the rhythm, through putting the pencil on paper and seeing the image taking form, or through the telling a story on stage or on screen.
Creative learning is closely tied to hands-on learning, but it is distinct in practice and result. With creative learning, you use your senses to be emotionally invested—not only experientially invested. For example, my study/practice of acting was more creative than my study/practice of flying plans (which was more purely a hands-on form of learning). Creative learning also leads to a creation—whether some form of art, a product, or a business.
If you’re a hands-on and creative learner, there’s good news—these forms of learning are being more actively acknowledged in education and work spheres. Today, more people have more appreciation for the arts—and for the value of creativity in general. It’s definitely time to ride that wave.
There are different seasons of learning, and it’s okay to shift the way you learn as you go. In fact, it’s only natural that we change as we learn and grow. But for different reasons, many of us feel we need to limit ourselves to a single path—even as adults.
When I decided to pursue grad school, I started in a program called “Global Leadership.” In that program, I was challenged to study pedagogy and determine learning methods that would best suit me. This brought an incredible sense of freedom and new perspective to education itself. I breathed a breath of relief, knowing I didn’t have to “serve my time” for education; education could be for me.
If you have a voice telling you that you can only take one path—that veering off of it is wrong—I challenge you to first acknowledge that the voice is there and then to question it.
What’s the fear behind it? Are you actually hearing your own words or the words of someone else? Does the voice tell you that you’re not good if you don’t have x, y, or z degree?
Ask yourself whatever you need to in order to identify what’s really going on. Perhaps the voice is telling you something useful—not based in anxiety. But if the voice is not useful and is simply full of anxiety, why listen?
The Question of “Value”
Education is valuable. It’s a great privilege to study, to develop skills, and to grow as a human.
But I think it’s important to keep an eye on how we’re defining value. What do we mean when we ask if a certain form of education is valuable?
Like many others I know, my wife loved her college studies and her overall experience in college, but she didn’t end up using her degree for a paid position. She studied theology, and now she runs a successful business working with horses as a barefoot trimmer, using highly specialized skills she learned in her own time.
Of course, she gained important experience from her time in college, and a degree in itself can be meaningful, but if she was to say, “This degree has to result in a particular monetary value,” she’d be pretty disappointed.
A degree might help you—indirectly or directly—get one or two job offers. But the overall value of your education should go beyond a simple equation like: I spent this much on my education, and that needs to equal this salary.
There’s so much more to value when it comes to education. Perhaps you do spend money on a degree and don’t use it for a particular job. That can still be valuable. Perhaps you take a year or two to go abroad or for self-study. That, too, can still be highly valuable education.
A Couple Practical Places to Start
In order to matchmake your education to you, there are a couple practical steps I suggest.
First, you can use a simple question to help you navigate. Ask: What would be my ideal career for the next couple years?
I say couple for a reason. The ten-year plan, even the five-year plan, isn’t helpful (in my opinion). The world is constantly changing, and you are constantly changing too. Remember, that’s not a bad thing.
The point is that you will most likely have a number of different jobs over the course of ten years and even explore a number of different lifestyles (in terms of work, location, and more).
But by having an idea of what you might want to do in this current phase of your life, you can focus there and find some good fits for learning.
Once you can picture your ideal career, you can ask further questions, like: What skills would my ideal career require? How can I practically develop those skills now? What kind of connections or mentorships would provide me in-roads to this career? How could I start to proactively build those connections today?
As you answer those questions, you can better align yourself to education that works for you. You’ll look beyond subject of study and consider the people you will study with, connections you will gain, and new opportunities you might have.
Create a Project or Product as You Go
If you’re in school now or going to pursue further education soon, I recommend you use some of your time to build a project or a product as you go. Rather than think of this time as completely separate from the rest of your life, consider how you might use what you’re learning to develop something that could actually pay off in a tangible way.
If you’re studying Communications, you might do as many speaking gigs as possible and create a portfolio of videos of you speaking. If you’re studying Psychology and find yourself intrigued by a particular topic, you could write a book over the course of a couple years. You don’t have to be an expert on the subject. Write what you know, based on where you are. If you can connect with a particular audience on an emotional level, you can build a readership—a community of people that will be interested in your story and the perspective you bring to a conversation.
By doing a project or creating a product as you go, you benefit by putting what you’re learning into practice, and you’ll learn even more in the process.
Explore Online Paths
Today, there are so many ways to learn, and the traditional route is not always going to be the best route. We live in a different economy than we did just twenty years ago. And it’s okay to admit, and even embrace, that.
If you want to be a data scientist, for example, you could take advantage of many low-cost, flexible, online programs built specifically for you, such as Dataquest. Not only do these programs teach you the skills you need, but many of them incorporate career guidance as well. They will connect you to jobs and employers looking for your newfound skills.
You might still want to pursue a traditional degree. If you do, go for it! The point is that you have options.
Coming Back to Education for You
Too often, practical advice like this is given along with a big dose of anxiety. It feels like people are saying, “Do this, or you won’t be able to survive.”
That’s not what I’m saying.
I’m actually saying the opposite. I’m saying, Allow yourself to imagine—to wonder how you can creatively connect your education to who you are.
Of course, it makes sense to want education to result in something—to get you somewhere. I get that. But it’s also helpful to let yourself define success as you learn and grow.
If you do this the right way, the result will be excitement, even play. It’s okay to see life a little more lightheartedly—like a game you get to choose to play in a lot of different ways, with no one “right” path.
In my work, I’ve helped lot of wealthy people write their books. It’s interesting that they all have one thing in common: they all got to where they are in different ways. They didn’t follow one “right path.” Of course, they all provide advice from their single perspective; that’s only natural. But that doesn’t necessarily mean their path is right for you.
So, start with what inspires you and go from there.
If your definition of success changes over time, just as your education and career aspirations do, awesome! Now you’re onto something. You’re recognizing that change is just part of the game. 😉