Make Learning a Habit: Why You Need to Challenge Yourself Day In and Day Out

HUMAN ASSEMBLY LINE

For the first 18 years of our lives, we are waltzed down the archaic roads of primary and secondary education, expected to enjoy the decades old curricula, and at the end of it all, magically discover our hidden passions. We watch the world accelerate around us, while we are trapped in an educational environment that inhibits our ability to keep pace.

Forced to feel comfortable in our current surroundings, the only “choice” we have as graduation nears is to start sending in our college applications and hope there’s a school out there, with a reasonable reputation, willing to accept our tens of thousands of dollars for a piece of paper that holds little value other than to say “Hey, look! I followed the status quo. Can I be a part of society now?”

This rite of passage teaches us nothing about how to be ourselves, which some might argue is the system’s plan all along. The age old philosophy of “stay in school, get good grades, find a good job, and provide for your family” promises one thing: mediocrity.

For decades, we are brainwashed into thinking that formal, public education is the only path to success and stability. Fortunately, there are programs (e.g. MOOCs, coding bootcamps) starting to develop that bypasses these antiquated methods and is redefining what it means to educate. Unfortunately, we have strayed away from a particular old school method (i.e. apprenticeships), which I personally think holds tremendous value and one in which I look to dig into deeper another time.

WHERE I ACTUALLY GAINED MY EDUCATION

Every accomplishment I can lay claim to has almost entirely been the result of opportunities that fell outside of the classroom environment:

  1. In middle school and high school, I developed my foundational leadership skills through the encouragement and discipline provided by two basketball coaches and my parents.
  2. Participating in the downright weird social environment that is “teenage-hood” allowed me to gain an understanding of what trust feels like.
  3. Through my nine years of refereeing soccer, I became conditioned in the basic concepts of diplomacy, finding reasonable agreement with once irate coaches.

When I entered college, I discovered the advantages of:

  1. Taking a leap of faith
  2. Growing through uncomfortable experiences
  3. Embracing the expansion of my empathetic bubble in order to include all of humanity in my daily considerations.
  4. Learning how to teach myself new information
  5. Finding unexpected mentors by participating in extracurricular activities
  6. Experiencing true heartbreak
  7. Committing myself to breaking away from the cycles of depression I had experienced for over three years

All of these items and more have allowed me to discover the attributes I want to define my character and I am confident in saying nearly 99% of these experiences were NOT a result of my going to school. The classroom was the last place I ever saw meaningful growth.

Yes, I had resources available to me that I would be hard pressed to find outside of a university environment, but that is only because society has put all of their educational eggs in one basket, forcing young adults to flock to the money making machines of these supposed non-profit institutions. If a system were in place to appropriately separate the classroom from student involvement opportunities, the former would fizzle out under its current construction.

Don’t get me wrong, there are always wonderful exceptions to the rule.

There are professors that challenge their students to intently consider the information presented to them and develop strong arguments to support their conclusions in a revolutionary way. I was fortunate enough to have one such professor. Although I was less than fond of his bombastic personality, I developed a real world skillset that has carried me beyond my four years at college.

But is that what college is for? Throw your money and hope it sticks? I think not.

BE YOUR OWN TEACHER

The environment we learn in should be something that energizes us. An innocent question should result in us answering twenty and when we’re stumped, we should either embrace the challenge to dig further or be awed by how much is still to be discovered.

We should find pleasure in rooting our minds in subject matter we had the freedom to choose. If we can be willing to remove the rigidity and dryness of our redundant syllabi and ask students to freely explore topics befitting their passions, we will experience unimaginable progress in our society.

However, since the current system is unwilling to travel in this direction, it is our responsibility to do it ourselves.

Upon graduating college, I had earned around 160 credit hours of study. One more semester would have nearly brought me to a degree and a half worth of classes under my belt. I wasn’t a double or triple major, and I never intended on accruing such a ridiculous amount of credit. However, I found myself caught trying to pinpoint a major that fit my long term interests. It took me until my junior year to realize the only interest I truly had could not be found in the narrow bounds of a particular subject.

I had a thirst for information. Be it statistics, physics, psychology, nutritional sciences, or even qigong, I wanted to learn it all.

I envy anyone that has had their mind made up since they were five and pursue that topic of interest once they reach adulthood. Both of my sisters were generally those kinds of people. One is a doctor, the other a writer, and neither changed course while they were in college.

I on the other hand gave my parents a run for their money. At the age of 12, I was convinced I wanted to study meteorology and so I began my collegiate journey in the top meteorological program in the public realm.

After less than two months, an abysmal random roommate scenario and immediately second guessing my educational interest, I got out of dodge after one semester and came back to Missouri to figure out what the world truly had in store for me.

In my four years of higher education, I had officially declared three majors, eventually dropped two, graduated with a single degree, and had zero intentions of ever pursuing work in my field of study. Sounds like a success story to me.

The narrow paths carved out by the degree programs I found at my Alma Mater left me longing for so much more. If a college education wasn’t so costly, I probably would have lost myself in the classroom forever, searching for the subject matter that makes my clock tick. Nonetheless, money is a thing and I needed to find a better resource to help me discover my passions.

I hope it has become apparent that I am unwilling to force myself into an identity that I don’t feel represents my self-defined image. I believe the idea of a Renaissance (wo)man is more alive today than it was centuries ago, given our immediate access to free information. The only thing (albeit a big thing) preventing us from realizing our full learning potential is the simple fact that we are engulfed in a world of distractions. We are comfortable being comfortable and I find this characteristic damning.

For those of us that don’t live by the philosophy that life is meaningless, we find ourselves advocating this thinking via our stagnation. Regardless of the external factors that have brought us to this point, we need to make the conscious decision to no longer accept our lives as we know them today. We need to take back the reigns and direct ourselves wherever it is we would like to go.

MONTHLY CHALLENGES

I have spent a good portion of the past five years performing various experiments, mainly fitness related, in order to discover ways to maximize my human potential. The thing that has become abundantly clear throughout this half decade is that there are a lot, and I mean A LOT, of things I do not have the capability of performing successfully. However, through all of these negative results, I have discovered two treasured benefits.

First and foremost, I no longer live my life in contemplation. If I ever come across an idea or interest and ask myself “what if (fill in the blank),” I take action and reveal the answer.

What if I teach myself how to code? Boom, I downloaded two free coding platforms called R and Python, studied them for about a month, had zero interest in continuing my education, and went on to the next thing.

What if I write every single day about my life in Cameroon from start to finish? Boom, although my time across the pond was shorter than I planned, I submitted a post every single day for 157 days straight.

So, what did I learn? I really, really enjoy writing and I really, really enjoy appreciating data analytics from afar. I kept these examples very basic in order to prevent myself from straying too far from the purpose of this post, but trust me when I say it took me many failures before finding my passion.

The second unexpected benefit I have unearthed is the ability to go about each day with a clear and focused mind. I have developed great expediency in filtering through the ideas floating around in my head, quickly eliminating those that have little to no value, and latching onto the ones that will bring me to the next level in my personal evolution.

These two benefits have allowed me to reorient my expectations of success and redefine my goals to become a self-employed, free roaming, blissful human being. I hope just by reading this you are able to feel the energy that is rushing through me. Now, don’t you want that same feeling?

We might not always have clarity in the direction we are traveling, but setting out to challenge ourselves every day will result in taking another positive step forward. Each month, I will set out on a new 30 day journey to break old habits, learn new things, and challenge myself in ways I haven’t even considered yet. I want you to join me. Stop asking “what if” and start saying “let’s go!”


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