Don’t do stuff you hate.
Seemingly simple, this is a statement that very few people live their lives by. You stick to things that you dread, merely for the reason of sticking to them—just so you don’t have to say that you quit. I feel like this is the downside to the Protestant Work Ethic that so defines Anglo and Northern European culture.
But more damaging than the fear of quitting is the fact that very few people grow up in life actually learning what it is they like and don’t like. Before you build the courage to act on what you like and don’t like you have to learn what those things actually are.
This is where school and college utterly fail us.
The current societal mode of education has decided that it’s best to take kids, in their prime period of self-learning and self-discovery, and send them to concrete rooms to sit and be talked at. Cut them off from the real world and force them into a low stakes, low risk, low rewards environment with artificial incentives.
We stick them in this boring hell and expect them to learn about themselves and what they want to do with the rest of their lives.
Talk about setting people up for failure.
You don’t learn about yourself reading books that other people want you to read. You don’t learn what you are good at by being forced to sit in a classroom doing activities that arbitrary authorities determine for you.
And what’s more, everyone knows this in their bones to be true. It’s instinctive.
You know that the true learning experiences—the ones that really stick with you—are ones in which life is thrust upon you. Where the desire is real, the risk is real, and the success is real.
We live in a world where learning has the potential to be almost infinity personalized, and yet we are stuck on an education model created by the Prussians in the late 19th century.
Learning, real learning, happens when you let kids set their own goals and help them figure out what specific knowledge and skills are necessary to accomplish that goal.
Letting a kid run a lemonade stand is loads more valuable than high school. They can learn the basics of how to handle money, supply and demand, rudimentary marketing, the thrill of success, and the sting of failure.
But aside from the lemonade stand cliche, it takes time to figure out what you like and don’t like. To figure out what you hate, and what has the potential to really make you come alive. There is no short cut on this journey. The only way to figure these things out is by trying things.
Actually trying things.
I’m not denying that you don’t learn some things in school. And I’m also not denying that many fields require years of intense study. But you always learn more by doing. Reading, writing, group discussions–these things are given meaning by the ends that they serve.
The reason so little information sticks with most people from high school and college is that they have to do those things for a reason that feels fake. To do well on the test, to get a good grade in the class, to get a high GPA, to maybe get into a good college, to maybe get a job that you’ll enjoy and that pays well.
The act and exercise of learning is too far removed from the supposed result. So far that you feel no real connection. No real motivation.
And furthermore, what you do in a classroom has no real semblance to what you would do with the material you learn in the real world. You devote thousands of dollars and years of your young adulthood–years that could be extremely productive–to learning something in a fake environment, and then get into a real environment and most likely realize it’s not for you. Or realize that you actually could do what you are doing without wasting the time and money.
The answer is to let kids guide their own learning. After learning the basics (for which formal schooling is hardly necessary) teach kids practical skills that they can use to build other skills. Let them enroll in subjects online or with groups that seem interesting to them. Let them create a website for themselves. Start a blog and write about things that interest them. Create and put things out in the world to be judged.
When they get a little older let them work. Apprenticeships, though nearly defunct in the US for some years, are quickly on the rise. This is because the myth of college is slowly (but ever more rapidly) unraveling.
The only way to a successful life is by learning what you like and don’t like, and learning to feel empowered to act accordingly. The best way to learn is by doing.
You want to learn what makes you come alive?
You want to learn who you are?
Get out there and do stuff. Real stuff.
Find your rhythm.