Children are notorious for asking an overwhelming amount of questions about anything and everything, liable to drive grown-ups absolutely insane. Often as we grow older this fervent hunger for answers and wonder at the world around us diminishes. We settle into a pattern with life, complacently accepting aspects of the world around us without question. No longer learning, just merely accepting. Rekindle that child-like wonder at the world around you. Question everything.
This time of the year means final exams for many students, a particularly hectic and stressful time of the year often resulting in some type of emotional trauma. For the first time in years I don’t find myself locked in the library, poring over old notes, mainlining coffee, frantically filling my mind with four months’ worth of information. Although I enjoyed school and made excellent grades, I don’t envy my friends enduring the trials of semester exams. In fact, I am positively elated that I never have to step foot inside an academic institution ever again.
Don’t misunderstand me, I am a huge advocate for higher learning and appreciate the wonderful education I received. Truthfully, I would not be the person I am today without school, both intellectually and personally. However, what I recently encountered and observed within myself as well as other graduates is a complacency toward learning after graduating. At first I felt justified in this mentality; I’ve gone through the recommended levels of education, acquired my degree and found employment in the working world. I served my time so to speak and am now free from opening a textbook ever again. Having a variety of interests and passions kept me busy in college as I joined many extracurricular groups and organizations both on and off campus. Extracurricular activities combined with academics made for an exhausting, albeit rewarding educational experience, but inevitably left me feeling burnt out once I graduated.
After a few months of R & R consisting of many “treat yo self” days, a philosophy I happily adopted through binge-watching “Parks and Recreation,” and the confidence and relief associated with landing my first big-girl job, I feel I can now finally release any lingering stress from school. Through that release I am surprised to discover the itch to learn creep into my mind. I’m not yearning for textbooks, term papers or lectures exactly, but for some other type intellectual stimulus. Despite years of education and the daily mental hurdles associated with adulthood to occupy my brain, I find my mind is restless and feeling far too empty for this large world.
I need to learn more, but I need to learn it differently. Now I strive to look at the world as I did when I was younger, eagerly seeking answers to a never-ending list of questions. Although school offers some freedom in exploring your own interests, I now have complete and total freedom about what, when and how I learn. The answer no longer lies solely in a textbook or weekly lecture, and the knowledge I learn post-graduation is no longer quantifiable in a final course grade. All learning occurring after leaving the confines of school happens on a much deeper and personal level. Realizing that I am now totally in charge of my own intellectual development from this moment forward is a responsibility I find incredibly daunting and invigorating.
School provides our minds with essential information during the most impressionable ages of development, but I believe the most important structure school imprints on our minds is the basic system for seeking answers. A teacher poses a question, and the student researches textbooks, lecture notes, etc. to find and provide the answer. This pattern diminishes upon graduation. The self-driven responsibility appears with the absence of the teacher to pose a question. Of course after graduation questions don’t disappear. In fact quite the opposite happens, they appear in abundance. What I notice disappearing today is the desire to seek the answer.
Based on conversations with friends who graduated before me I learned many of them still harbor negative sentiments toward learning, often shrugging off the unknown with a meager “I don’t know” and never probing further. These are people who groan at the thought of working to harvest the most basic information. This disregard for knowledge after school, after years of learning different tools and methods to find answers, is concerning and needs to change. Blatantly depriving yourself of any opportunity to explore, discover and learn doesn’t make your life easier, it makes it dull, stagnant and repetitive. In this scenario, ignorance certainly is not bliss.
The process of seeking an answer to a question is sometimes more important than the answer itself. Listen to the basic, childhood instinct to push further and learn more. Again, I’m not speaking in the traditional sense of learning by scouring textbooks for answers. I’m referring to learning through experience. Listen to that initial spark and feed that desire for answers through experiences. Now you have the chance to create your own syllabus, your own curriculum. Every question leads not just to an answer, but an experience.
Often we are self-conscious and embarrassed about what we do not know, especially when we reach ages where we’re expected to have a firm grasp on the world around us. Approaching new tasks and ideas with low confidence prevents us from fully expanding our minds. There is something to be learned from everything. No experience is beneath you or above you. Be ready to leap at any opportunity that crosses your path. Even if initially it doesn’t appeal to you in the slightest, try it anyway. There’s no telling where an experience will lead. Learn from your failures, learn from your successes, and let your experiences enlighten you.
Accept that you will never fully understand all aspects of this world, but also accept that there is much more to learn, and this knowledge is yours for the taking. Be brave enough to claim it. Relinquish the fear of judgment from others about what you do not know and question and explore the world around you. What you discover will fill your mind and change your life more than you could ever imagine. Try something you once told yourself you couldn’t do. Volunteer with an organization you know nothing about. Plan a trip someplace you’ve never been. Better yet, plan a trip somewhere that doesn’t speak your language. Attend a weekend seminar or convention. Provide some type of stimulus for your brain. All experiences lead to intellectual insights as well as personal revelations. You have a better sense of self when you continue to push the limits of you mind and learn. You now have the liberty to fill your mind any way you want. Let that instinctual spark to know fill your life with beautiful and rich experiences.
“The questions are always more important than the answers.” –Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture