The world seems to be in a never-ending search for balance. While finding this balance is difficult it seems to come most naturally from the pull of opposing forces rather than the migration toward a middle ground. Magnetism, life cycles and so many other phenomena are based on the polarity of their systems. At a certain point human beings should be anticipating the balancing forces of nature but instead we seem to fight it at every turn. Such is the case with learning, especially in the modern world. I’ve encapsulated this concept using the fast moving but rigid rails of trains. The other part to the idea consists of trails which are more free-form. Until recently I was not able to articulate the balance inside of my own head or for outward expression.
Intuitively I know that the education system is at best flawed and at worst broken. Much like the rails of the train, it can only go to specific destinations and relies heavily on schedules and uniformity. There may be first class and express ticket options available but the destinations are largely the same. The conductors of this system scoff at those who travel by any other means because they’ve become so enamored with their efficiency that they accept its limitations.
The trailblazers on the other hand see a total lack of freedom on the rails. Despite their much slower rate of speed, they find joy in the terrain. The rocks, trees, streams and other impediments are part of the experience of doing it on your own. In the learning space, the free-form approach is looked down upon because its progress is haphazard and difficult to measure. Starting a business, project, movement, etc. and failing can be an extremely valuable experience but lacks the quantifiable data that the traditional system requires.
At no time in history has it ever been more apparent that both approaches are needed in some form of personal balance. A person who spends their entire life on the rails will be frustrated by the world that now requires them to do more than “follow directions”. Equally the person who is used to the DIY approach will become frustrated by their interactions with traditional agencies that have protocols and procedures.
So as you, personally, go into the future recognize when the rails will move you forward quicker and when the depth of trails will truly satisfy. Understand that just because you prefer one or the other does not make it the best way to travel. Learning is a lifelong pursuit that needs your oversight. Hybrid your way forward and never doubt that product that you’re working on is you!
Learn today to be better tomorrow.
Despite being a 41 year old man, I really like the Harry Potter movies and watch them regularly. My wife would say that it’s because of Emma Watson but that’s not quite the truth. The story itself is what draws me in. It’s a pretty classic story of good vs. evil with enough twists and turns to make it unique. I’m also very interested in young people and how they learn to find their way through the world. Obviously completely fictitious but in parallel to the real world, one major failing of Hogwarts is to maintain a consistent Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. In that world, the imminent danger of Voldemort made that post important. In our much less magical world, the danger does not come from a completely evil dark lord but rather other young people trying to find their way in the world.
Just prior to sitting down to write, I was watching the Today Show and their guests were the parents of the twelve year old girl who killed herself in Rockaway, NJ. With an eleven year old son and many young people in my life, I truly feel for these parents as they’ve gone through the worst pain that a parent can bear. That story is not fiction and no matter the result of the lawsuit, it will not end completely happily.
I do not believe that social media is inherently bad or evil. It does create a loosely guarded gateway for evils to be perpetrated. While most of the focus is on stopping cyber-bulling and the perpetrators, I’d suggest that young (and older) people need to learn how to defend themselves against the dark arts of bullying. Let me say here, I am not condoning bullying in any way shape or form. Schools and organizations need to respond to these types of actions. Unfortunately the adults in a child’s life can only protect them so much. At a certain point, a child (or adult) is going to need to know how to protect themselves; not just from bullies but from friends, strangers, rejection, failure and loss. Knowing how to cope with and defeat these “dark arts” is crucial but rarely taught or even discussed. The two best Defence Against the Dark Arts teachers were Remus Lupin and Harry himself. Both were effective because they were practical in their approach. They did not deny that their students might face dark times like Dolores Umbridge. The beauty of the Order of the Phoenix is that students organize in order to protect themselves because they know that danger is out there.
In the real world, young people are increasingly living their lives in a virtual world where the perceived becomes as important or more important than the real. So they are fighting in a world of perception when they are still learning how to perceive themselves. If you know of someone who is struggling to manage the world, here are some starting points:
- Keep your phone/iPad/etc. in another room while you sleep.
- Do not log onto your device of choice for the first 30 minutes of your day.
- During that 30 minutes, take about 15 to do the following:
- Write down or think of people, things, experiences that you’re grateful for.
- Write down or think of the positive things that you’d like to have happen today (things that depend more on you than other people)
- Write down or think of the person you want to be in the future. Don’t get caught up in the space between where you are and where you want to be. Allow yourself to be in the future.
- After you’ve made these first 3 a habit, add in some form of body movement. Enough to get your blood pumping above a resting rate.
The point behind all of these items is to focus your mind on the things that matter most to you before it gets distracted by the desires of others. Decide what it is that you want out of your life/day before anyone else gets to add their input. If you need a helping hand, my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a great day people!
During college and for the first year after I graduated, I had a job as a poison merchant. It was a really good job for a young person. The pay was above average, the hours fit perfectly into my personal and social schedules. My boss was a great guy who treated me extremely well because he recognized that I was a valuable member of the team. Our customers really liked me and I had banter with the regulars. I knew the preferences of the regulars and was adept at helping the people who didn’t know what they wanted. Despite how well things were going as a poison merchant, I opted to follow a more noble cause: knowledge salesman!
The past sixteen years as a knowledge salesman have been a tough slog. I have plenty of prospective customers who are forced to consider my products. Unfortunately most of them are resistant to buy because of the obligation that is held over their head. Most see no point to my product and think the price is too high. My store is antiquated. Even though I see all of the deficiencies in my company, it’s an old industry that believes that it will always exist. Despite the poor working conditions, I truly do care for my customers and know that my product could help them toward a better life. Unfortunately I have grown weary from fighting with my customers in their own self-interest. I know that in other parts of the world, customers risk death to get my products. While in my territory, low prices are demanded constantly and I know that many of my customers despise me for trying to do my job. The thing that keeps me going at the moment is my former customers who send me the occasional message of thanks. I’ve thought often of going back to being a poison merchant.
Value is not a fixed thing. Currency, real estate, commodities and almost anything else in this world has a value relative to the desire for that item, service, etc. Since value is driven by need/desire, it changes by region, time period or circumstance. It can also be deceptive. Humans put great value on things that are inherently worthless much of the time. They also put little to no value on things that are of great importance. My time working at a beer and wine store and as a teacher are not particularly an indictment of American culture but they do paint a picture of the value that we put on different things. Value is decided both individually and collectively. As each of us presses forward in our lives and communities, it is important to decide what we truly value in both the short and long term.
Each year my brother and I go for a hike on the Appalachian Trail. It is one of my favorite times of the year. It’s an awe-inspiring thing. The trail is only a few feet wide but it is over two thousand miles long. The path is usually easy enough to follow because lots of people hike it each year. This past spring we hiked our normal section in reverse. Due to an overflowing stream, we ended up on the wrong trail for a while. Eventually we were able to get back to the AT but first we had to get our bearings and hiked some new ground with new sites. Hiking the AT is a great experience that I’ve enjoyed a lot. It’s not the only path and it’s not the path for everyone.
While hiking the AT is great, it is a horrible path to be on if you’re trying to get to Ohio. As I prepare for another year in the classroom, I wonder how many of our paths are broken. We have constructed so many procedures, social norms and belief systems. It seems as though many of them are broken or breaking. The 20th Century American Human had a pretty clear cut set of guidelines for his or her “success”. Money, fame, power, and possessions were indicators of “success”. Perhaps they still are but I don’t know that the old paths still lead to those desired ends. The fact that we have been going down these paths for generations will be little consolation to the young people who end up lost on “the right path”.
Perhaps what we need now is a compass and a machete rather than a path. The future is an uncertain thing. Following the well-worn path may still get you to its historical end but it may help more to question the path. Is this the right path for you? At bare minimum the question and the decision to follow or not puts your life into your own hands. In the end that’s where it should be anyway. If you follow in everyone else’s footsteps and don’t like where you end up, then you made the mistake, not the path.
Find your True North and follow it this week.
In college I was a Spanish major and there was a girl in several of my classes who was a Spanish minor. She was very attractive but her Spanish skills were lacking. One day she told me that she didn’t even like speaking Spanish that she was just taking the classes to get the minor. This prompted my question, “why get the minor?” “Because it will look good on my resume.” At this point, I was flabbergasted. “Isn’t the company that is impressed by that going to expect that you’ll be able to use the language?” This thought had never occurred to her.
In this world of standardization, classification and certification, the papers that we are able to collect seem to hold too much weight. The story of my Spanish-challenged classmate is not made up and unfortunately not uncommon. Our diplomas and grades are collected in the hope that it will bring us to that promised land in the future. The issue is that when we have all of the papers that someone says we need, will we be able to do anything?
Perhaps, paper is not the thing that we need to collect. Maybe there are better commodities out there to be sought. Rather than collecting paper, we should be collecting: thoughts, hearts, minds, influence, respect, trust, love, esteem, help, counsel, ideas, laughter, smiles, jokes, hugs, handshakes, pats on the back, kisses, and the list goes on and on.
I’d rather struggle to get in the door because I lack the paper rather than being pushed out the door because my paper was meaningless.