Are you fairly disappointed in your formal education?
If not, I’d say you are a rare and exquisite gem. Most people, myself included, love to banter on about its faults and shortcomings. I spent the majority of my high school and college years actively criticizing the system, the professors’ lack of passion, the stuffy approach to learning, you name it.
Although I still believe I was right (even more so) I could have spent my time and energy better doing something more productive than just criticizing, perhaps even taking action to improve things in any way I could. But there’s another side of the coin. Maybe my disapproval of the education system led me to realize the most important skill that school should be directing us towards: the ability to self-teach.
It wasn’t until I graduated from college and got my first “grownup” job that I actually realized that I had all along been learning things beyond what school was offering.
You see, school is really just a window, and however disapproving we may be, it offers us a view into a wide array of curiosities. Whether we’ll be enticed to look further and what we’ll take away from it largely depends on us. Even when it’s over, it’s not too late to look back with a fresher perspective and take something new from it again. And although its methods are weak and often distorted, it’s still a place with the noblest of causes: learning.
Within this system, ten disengaged teachers can never overshadow the enthusiasm and passion for learning which a single brilliant teacher exudes. These brilliant teachers show us what learning is about – not acquiring knowledge for anyone’s sake, but a process that ultimately helps us find who we are.
This all kind of hit me when the reality of adult life kicked in and I realized two things:
One, I had spent all my life thus far actively learning.
Two, it’s no longer anybody’s job to actively urge me to learn. There’s no longer a system, however faulty, that makes learning my primary obligation and rewards me for it. It’s entirely up to me now.
When you think about it, it’s weird to just stop doing something you’ve been doing since you were a baby, isn’t it? Yet so many adults stop learning entirely, regardless whether it pertains to new skills or exploring new fields of knowledge. There’s no longer encouragement, no curiosity, no time, no space… There might be something you need to learn to get ahead in your career and that’s where it stops for many people.
But what about learning purely for yourself, for your own mind, your soul and sanity?
Because, I tell you, we need that now more than ever. There’s so much ignorance and superficiality thrown at us daily via the media and social sharing, that we’re not even fully aware how it’s shaping our thought patterns and our personal relationships. Letting this current take you leads to stagnation – not just stagnation of your mental development but emotional as well. We need our minds sharp and critical so that we can even remotely comprehend what’s going on in and around us; otherwise we’re just helplessly floating in the mundanity of everyday life, pushed by currents new and old.
Learning, whatever it is you choose to dedicate your time and energy to, won’t be a smooth process. And that’s great, because practicing patience and resilience comes as one of the many benefits of learning.
For me, learning Spanish has taught me much more than the language itself. I had always been fascinated by Spanish literature and culture, but I finally started to study the language at a difficult period in my life, when I was disheartened by my profession (and sort of afraid I’ll never get mental stimulation again). And it was truly an escape for me – the process of learning itself was giving me confidence and elevating me.
But sometimes things would just get so hard and frustrating (darn you, pronunciation) that I wanted to give up entirely and never utter a word of Spanish again. In short, I hated sucking at it. But I was determined to go on: I’ve learned Spanish curse words even just to make sure I didn’t stop my routine and so that I could at least laugh a little in the moments when I was feeling like a complete idiot.
I’m so proud of the progress I’ve made thus far, but I’ve learned much more than Spanish. The hours of studious work, during which I had to be completely invested in the present moment, have made me more focused in general. I’ve proven to myself that I can really overcome any obstacle, but I first have to be patient and kind to myself.
When things get tough, I often reflect on this experience and how every second of exasperation can result in something you thought was unachievable, only if you stay determined.
And that really is something you need in every other aspect of life.
Always strive to learn, friends. Lifelong learning is the only way we can enter old age with dignity and bliss – not just because our minds will be sharper, but because we’ll have refined our perception to help us deal with all the changes. So whatever it is you had on your mind do it; thankfully we have more resources for learning now than ever. Dancing, writing, cooking, carpentry, languages, rocket science – it doesn’t matter what it is as long as it interests you. Not only will learning make you happier and more confident, it’s a process that will show to you the strengths you didn’t know you had.
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