“Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.” – Albert Einstein
I struggle to find the words to articulate this thought that has been pressing my mind this week. When applying this question to myself, the reality of the matter really set in. The question being this:
As adults, how much of our time is dedicated to learning?
Stark realization came over me this week. While I am learning via life lessons everyday and growing as a result, I haven’t really taken the time to learn new concepts or challenge my brain since completing university two years ago. What’s more daunting is the fact that since the age of 15, I’ve been slowly eliminating the things that proved to be difficult or challenging, embracing solely the skills that came with ease. When math became too inaccessible and science too intimidating, I was quick to exclude them from my studies. As I progressed into young adulthood my focus was solely on the arts: history, philosophy, literature, writing. The arts sparked my interest, and came to me with ease. The arts are fluid, allowing for interpretation and opinion. Thinking outside the box is greatly encouraged, the realm of possibilities endless. Math and sciences, on the other hand, are very black and white. You know the answer or you don’t. I was much more fascinated with exploring the grey areas of the arts, and didn’t find much joy in being confined to right vs. wrong. So rather than maintain balance, I dove head first into the grey area.
Now, as a 24 year old woman, I’ve realized that by giving up on the subjects that challenge me, I’ve limited my capabilities. I’ve been evolving the creative and imaginative, and shunned the analytical functions of my brain.
This realization came to me after a particularly stressful day at work. For the past two months I have been learning mail distribution procedures, something I’ve never done before. It’s challenging because there is no room for error. Mail is time sensitive, highly confidential and must end up in the right hands. One small mistake can lead to a domino effect of problems. I’ve been struggling with grasping my new responsibilities, and I believe a big part of my problem is due to the fact that I’ve grown so accustomed to the fluidity of the arts that I find anything that puts me in a right vs. wrong situation intimidates me. There’s no wiggle room, no room for interpretation. You know it or you don’t. I was allowing this challenge to intimidate me just as math and science did. I longed to do the things that came more naturally to me, dreading the challenges this new task was presenting. I wanted to eliminate it, to rid of the mistakes that accompany learning new things.
And then realization struck me. I’ve been taking the easy way out of things for the entirety of my independent adult life. I’ve become so focused on the things that come naturally, I’ve stopped allowing room for learning new, more challenging tasks and subjects. It was this very moment that I also realized the only way to progress in life is to accept challenges with open arms, and to never stop learning.
My next burning question was, how can I begin self-educating? How can I get out of this comfortable routine I’ve fallen into, and push myself above and beyond? All of the education we’ve been exposed to is predetermined, guided by a wise leader, such as a teacher, a parent, a team coach, a religious figure. Taking control of your own education takes a determined mind. We have all the tools available to us to educate ourselves, but once learning becomes optional, how many of us embark down this path? There is no end to the path of education, It is forever ongoing. We mustn’t cower away from the challenges of learning, rather, we must encourage them. After much research and discussion with others, here are some of the things I will be doing to incorporate active learning into my adult life:
Despite my past struggles with science, I’ve always been fascinated by it. Specifically, Astronomy and the study of the cosmos sparks my interest. My boyfriend sent me a great article, Five Awesome Science Courses You Can Take Online Completely Free, which outlines exactly what the title promises. I signed up for a course beginning June 28th (As promised, it’s completely free), From Atoms to Stars: How Physics Explains Our World. If science doesn’t appeal to you, a quick google search of your subject of interest will open up a world of possibilities. We have endless information available at the tips of our fingers.
If the online education approach doesn’t suit you, you can always invest your time into taking a course at a nearby college or university. During my time in university, I had classmates of all ages and backgrounds. There were the full time students in their early 20’s like myself, and there were also the part time students in their 30’s and beyond who were there simply for the love of learning and bettering themselves. The latter were the ones who were most dedicated, most involved and passionate. When you are educating yourself out of curiosity and not out of a sense of requirement, your mind will be much more open and responsive to learning.
The salons of the Enlightenment Era encouraged discussion and sharing of knowledge. Rather than shunning social situations outside of your comfort zone, think of them as an opportunity for discussion and insight. Each conversation you take part in can be thought of as a learning experience. Each individual on this planet has a different outlook, different experiences and education. Listen intently, don’t simply wait for your turn to speak. Observe and try to understand each person’s point of view. Their opinions have come to be as a response to their personal experiences. While you may not always agree with them, you can always learn and expand your mind to a different way of thinking.
Step Outside of Your Genre
Read things that interest you but at the same time challenge you. For example, I typically love reading thrillers and science fiction. I find these genres exciting but not entirely challenging. I’ve recently began reading Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything, an immensely readable book outlining the history of science, from the Big Bang to today. What I enjoy about this book is that it’s informative but also very accessible to the uninformed reader. Don’t be intimidated by subjects that you are not wholly educated in. Everyone starts somewhere, challenge yourself to learn something new! I guarantee that whatever topic you are intrigued by, whether it’s astronomy, literature, language, there are beginner options out there!
Challenge Your Body
Physical well-being is just as important as mental health. As much as you exercise your brain, you should exercise your body too. I’ve begun incorporating yoga into my mornings before work. I wake up an hour earlier than I normally would to attend the 6:30-7:30 hot yoga class at a studio near my work. The hardest part of this is simply getting out of bed. What I’ve noticed is I feel more awake and mentally prepared for the day having done yoga versus getting that extra hour of sleep. It truly sets the tone for the entire day. I feel much more aware and receptive to learning. It clears my mind of stress from the get-go, allowing my mind to retain more information as it’s less consumed with worry or anxiety. If stress or an anxious mind holds you back, I greatly suggest physical activity.
Don’t Let Fear of Mistakes Hold You Back
Mistakes are a result of learning new things. If you avoid making mistakes, you are indirectly avoiding new challenges in your life. Think of each mistake as a lesson in and of itself. Don’t fret over them, simply learn from them. Without the chance of error, our lives would be very stagnant.
I hope these tips help you to open up your mind to new lessons and challenges. Do you have any other tips on how to further your education as an adult? Please feel free to share them in the comments, I’m always looking for new ways to better myself.