Pop-ups. These digital mosquitoes are constantly buzzing around, but we have evolved enough to quickly exit these little buggers. Don't worry, this article isn't about those kinds of pop-ups. It's about the kind of pop-ups that occur in our minds.
A simple example - I had a friend once say that when he looked at a digital clock, he seemed to always look when it was 12:34 (1-2-3-4, get it?). After he told me this, for a week straight I seemed to see 12:34 every day and once woke up in the middle of the night at exactly 12:34. Whether I was just looking for it and hoping to see it, or just a random coincidence, my mind was looking for that number. Believe it or not, this phenomenon can be used to help us improve our lives.
For the past couple years, I've been reading, listening, and watching content related to career development. Because it's been on my mind for the last couple of years, I felt motivated to put my thoughts and ideas into this blog. I've found an unexpected benefit to doing so, which I am calling Passion Pop-ups. Just like website pop-ups, these pop-ups come unexpectedly when watching or reading various materials. Often, these Passion Pop-ups come by extracting themes from media that is strictly entertainment. I found a specific case recently when I was watching (again) one of my favorite TV series, The Office.
You see, recently I have this struggle existing in my mind. I've questioned why there are many differing opinions on the advice of "following your passion". One article will paint the picture that finding your passion is one of the most important things we can do in life. The next article says that following your passion is the worst possible advice you could give or follow. Well that's super unhelpful!
If you've read any of my articles before, you can probably guess that I'm on the side of "following your passion". The answer that I got from this mental struggle, was illustrated comparing two of the characters in The Office - Andy Bernard and Dwight Schrute.
Andy Bernard - we know him as the acapella loving, trust fund brat with an anger problem. He has always been unstable and continually seeks for the approval of authority figures. He ebbs and flows through his career at Dunder-Mifflin but is eventually made the manager of the Scranton Branch. Pressures of the job, insecurity, and a going a little insane after a 3-month boat trip, left Andy unsatisfied with his job. Being prompted by the airing of the documentary, Andy is struck with the idea that he could become a famous entertainer. This idea grows to levels that the logical explanations from his coworkers cannot sway him from "following his passion". He quits his job and sets out on his journey, a journey fraught with frustration, struggle, and failure of YouTube Fail Sensation levels.
Having no plan, direction, or idea of how to transform your dream into a reality creates an unnecessarily frustrating situation. It creates unnecessary risk, anger, depression, financial struggles, and opens you up for the beat down life is oh-so-willing to give. Andy's way makes me agree with those who say following your passion is bad advice. It is absolutely the wrong way to follow your passion and to achieve your dreams. It will sap whatever energy you had in searching for your passion. Worst of all, it can cause permanent damage in many aspects of your life. However, there has to be a better way, and Dwight Schrute shows a way that reduces risk, and increases the likelihood of success.
Dwight Schrute does the opposite. He works at his full time job, but uses he free time to follow his passion of working on his 60-acre beet farm. Throughout the series, you see him progress working on his farm, turning it into an agro-tourism hotspot (NOT a bed and breakfast), wanting to break into the garden party market, and eventually inherits his Aunt Shirly's neighboring farm which increases his farm to 1,600 acres. What I love most about this is that he didn't simply quit his job, or toss it aside, in order to follow his passion. It took him a number of seasons in order to make it to a spot where he didn't need his job anymore, but by the end, could have made a seamless transition into a full-time passion.
Dwight allows his passion to grow organically and his consistent effort gives him a number of options. When you and I set out on our journey in this manner, we minimize the risk by doing 3 things: 1) Seeing is our passion is truly a passion or simply something that sounds good at the time, 2) It gives us the opportunity to see if we have the skill or ability for this passion, and 3) it gives us the chance to see if there is a market for what our passion is. Best of all, we find all of this out while still having a stable income stream. It allows us to establish a plan, and similarly transition to a place where options will be available to choose what is best for us. There's no avoiding work. But if we follow Dwight's example, we will be given the choice of doing work that falls more in-line with passion, than the drudgery most of the working world currently accepts.
Passion has a place for all of us in our lives, whether we are able to do it as a career, or simply as an activity that brings energy into our lives. There is a right way and wrong way to find where it fits into our life. I'm grateful to Andy and Dwight for helping me understand the best way to do so.
At the end of my last post, a good friend posted some thoughts along with some questions. Instead of simply responding in the comments section, I thought I'd use it to further the discussion of creativity and passion finding specifically as it relates to raising up the next generation. Let me start with some of his questions:
-Do you think we should go back to the 1800s' style and learn whatever our parents do? Kind of a "learn on the job" scenario.
-Do you have an alternative solution for your own children? Do you plan on homeschooling?
-Does your solution provide realistic output that others around the world could mimic?
How do we help our children?
Let me start by saying this post is going to be riddled with my thoughts and theories from someone who probably doesn't have the typical qualifications to speak on the subject of our educational system. However, I've studied and listened to enough people who say we need a revolution in our educational system, that I've come to believe them (Ken Robinson being the foremost culprit).
It has struck a chord with me.
There are so many great things about this video, I don't know where to begin. Ken Robinson points out that many feel as though they have no talent. The current model of education, in my eyes, compounds that belief for anyone who isn't proficient in mathematics, the sciences, or English classes. We are traveling down the manufacturing line, to borrow Robinson's analogy, and if we are missing these core principles of education, we are most likely tossed aside as defective.
In his book, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, Ken Robinson points out that the world, society, education ask, "How intelligent are you?" Imagine being asked that standing in front of a board of educators. I would feel apprehensive, nervous, belittled, and inadequate. The real question we should be asking is, Robinson submits, "How are you intelligent?"
So much more inclusive and individualized.
So, back to some of the original questions, do I have any alternatives?
Let me just throw out a few ideas that I've had and though I don't know if they would work, I hope to try with my children someday. These aren't alternatives to public education, but are ideas for helping our children thrive in life.
1) Become a lifelong learner myself
I'm not going to be able to instill anything that I want my children to believe and do if I'm unwilling to believe and carry it out in my own life first. I should be using my time wisely, investing in myself through books, training, seminars, and experiencing life. I should limit the time that I use for TV and movies, and other entertainment that brings little to no value.
By doing this, I hope that I will be able to find a career path that will allow me freedom with my time. This is one of my highest aspirations, to be able to have the freedom to be a part of my family's world, so that I will be there for important life lessons. I also hope to find a career that I'm passionate about in order to build me up emotionally. With that, I will be able to be energized by my work and possibly even include my family in that work. By working on myself first, I provide a mentor for my children to follow.
2) Focus on experiences, not results
My least favorite part of the education system is the grading. Teachers are forced to focus on results because if they don't and students perform poorly, less money will be allocated for their school's funding. As a result, memorization, not true learning, is emphasized. While I won't be able to single-handedly revolutionize that, I can make it a point that in my family, grades aren't a source of struggle. Instead of a reward/punishment system, I hope to show my children the that honest effort, self exploration, trial and error, and new experiences are much more important than a paper with various letters of the alphabet from their teachers.
My emphasis on true learning will be shown in a number of ways. I won't hesitate to pull one of my children out of class for the day if I feel there is an opportunity for learning. If I think that spending a day at the museum will help enforce the curiosity that fuels learning, I'll do it. If my children need a trip to Cape Canaveral to understand better why it's important to learn about math and science, we'll be gone. If going to a seminar will help my teenagers understand how influential a single idea can be, we'll travel to the closest TED conference. I hope that as a parent, I can be part of my children's education in life and show them how they can live the life they want to live.
3) Convergent vs. Divergent learning
As an illustration, I've thought of this analogy recently.
Imagine you're an explorer in the early 1800s in America. The West represents a vast frontier of unexplored, unknown land. You're getting ready to head out on your journey when you are informed that your mission will only be financed if you find the geyser we now know as Old Faithful. You're told the general direction, but are largely left to figure it out on your own. You set out, frantic, to find a single monument in seemingly endless wilderness. Each day, you are filled with anxiety to find arrive at Old Faithful, so you may be financed and seen as a success. However, day after day, your head hits the pillow disappointed, frustrated, angry, and quickly losing hope. You spend years in your search, and years of your life trying to fulfill the expectations of someone else's dream to find Old Faithful.
In contrast, imagine after your first mission is presented, narrowed to finding Old Faithful, you're given a second mission, if you choose to accept it (forgive me, I couldn't resist). This journey will be financed just as long as you're willing to record all that you see, document where you've been, and any wonders you come across throughout your journey. You set out eager to see all that you can see. Each day, you see something that fascinates you. At times, you travel far in a day, while other times you spend weeks in a single place, exploring deeper the beauty and uniqueness of the land. You lay down each night, with wonder on what you found that day, and excited to see what the next day brings. You're filled with enthusiasm and end up discovering forests, waterfalls, grand canyons, breathtaking landscapes, geysers, oceans, mountains, wildlife. You spend years and years happy that life has given you this journey.
Mission #1 represents convergent learning, the type I feel is saturated in our schools today. The entire focus is on one ending goal (the pinnacle of which is college, according to Ken Robinson) but largely frustrates and dampens the spirit of learning so much that people continue their lives avoiding anything that is in any way like it.
Mission #2 represents what I believe Ken Robinson believes to be an ideal form of education, as he calls the agricultural model. This promotes individualized learning and wonder. But this can't only be the goal of our schools. I must do all that I can to live, and help my children live, a life full of divergent learning. This type of learning sees many possibilities and may start in one place for each child, but lead them on vastly different paths in order to discover their unique talents and passions.
By becoming a lifelong learner myself, focusing more on experiences over results, and promoting divergent learning, I fully believe that I can have success in raising children that will have, or will know how to find the tools necessary to have fulfillment in their lives.
Stephen Smith is one of the most unique educators that I've had throughout my lifetime as a student. He is a Sociology professor at Brigham Young University - Idaho and taught a course called Sociological Explorations. He prefers that students call him Stephen, not Mr. Smith, Dr. Smith, or anything else, saying, "That is what my mother calls me, so if you think you're better than my mother, call be Dr. Smith, but you're not." Stephen, from the perspective of a student, isn't simply working for the paycheck, but cares deeply to transfer those things he has learned. Let me share some examples.
On the first day of class we found that getting an 'A' in this class would be much different than other college courses. There were a number of requirements:
1) We had to get perfect scores on a pair of projects (an annotated bibliography and a group presentation)
2) We had to create for ourselves 2 projects. These were not from a list with any criteria, but had to be something we made up ourselves, with his approval.
3) At the end of the semester, we had to present 1-on-1 with Stephen our 'A' portfolio and argue why we deserve to receive an 'A' in the class.
The class buzzed with whispers of students that signified a sense of dread, people already planning on only getting a 'B' or 'C'. At the end of this first class, Stephen asked everyone to get out a piece of paper and said,
"Write down everything you know about bananas."
I wrote down as many as I could think of, but was mostly curious why we would take such a strange quiz. While I sat in my next class waiting for it to start, I searched 'banana' in Google. After looking at a few things, I didn't think about it again.
After our second day of class, Stephen gave us another quiz.
"Write down everything you learned about bananas since yesterday."
Stephen taught us all that day that a natural curiosity and desire to learn will be one of the most important things that we could cultivate in our lives. There were 3 phrases that we wanted to be deeply engrained into our minds by the end of his class.
1) How do you know that?
2) Actually, research says...
3) Smoking Grandpa
The first two are pretty straight forward (and Stephen said it would get us uninvited to a lot of dinner parties), but the last may need some explanation. Stephen told us about his grandpa who was a rancher, a real tough guy. For years, he smoked and did so until he died in his 80s. He had been told that smoking was bad, but saw that his grandfather lived a long life. He pointed out that we can never let one experience or one situation shape what we believe about the world.
One of the greatest takeaways that I got from this class is the fact that so much in the world pushes us to be, as C. Wright Mills called them, "Cheerful Robots." That we move along a conveyer belt, like the kids in the above Pink Floyd music video (which we were shown in class). And though slightly disturbing, it should be disturbing to us that the world will take us and grind us into what it wants us to become.
Since my time in this class, I've become uncomfortable. I've become uncomfortable with the thought of sitting in a regular 9-5 job that drains my soul, just to pay the bills. I'm scared that I'll become "drunk with syntax, blind to semantics." I read that, and had no idea what it meant. I looked up definitions and tried to place them into context of the book.
I found that we as a society are so focused on rules and structure that we are blinded to the meaning of things in our lives. We allow life to happen to us instead of finding meaning, then allowing that to dictate what we will use our energy and time to build in this life.
As I sat down with Stephen at the end of the semester, we talked about what I had done to learn and invest in myself throughout the semester. After our discussion, I asked if most students in his class had already come in. He responded that out of the 27 or 28 students in the class, I was only the 7th to come speak with him (and I talked to him on the last possible day).
This class was invaluable to me. Not because it got me to understand a bunch of sociological theories or how to correctly cite sources or where to find the best research. It was the best class that I've ever taken because it made be question my perception of reality and challenge it. Many students in the class misinterpreted the message to be anarchy, to stick it to 'The Man'. But I gained the understanding that I don't have to settle in my life and transform into a cheerful robot. It brought to light one of my favorite quotes from Napoleon Hill,
"Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve."
When I was 19 years old, I started a two year adventure as a missionary, going to serve the people in the great cities of Brooklyn and Queens, New York. This was my first time away from home and family. Needless to say, this was a huge period of growth for me as a person. Today I'd like to share one lesson of many that I learned from that period of my life.
Before arriving in New York, I spent two and a half months in Provo, Utah where I received training, studied American sign language, and read from the scriptures. My time was filled with classes, devotionals, personal study, practice teaching, serving, and daily exercise. I was with a group of 8 others going across the United States, who were also assigned to learn sign. Most of our day was spent with one another. I started to get really comfortable with the routine, with the people around me, just the lifestyle in general.
That comfort was pulled out from under me one Sunday.
Prior to our church services that day, we had some sort of leadership training that I was to attend. It was in a smaller classroom, probably 7 or 8 other missionaries were in attendance. I settled into my desk and waited for our teacher to begin. He turned to us, scanning over us, addressed me and said,
"Come up and provide us with the lesson."
That nervous sweat you get when all the attention is suddenly put on you began and I responded,
"Oh, I wasn't given the lesson to teach."
He had moved to an empty desk, and as he sat, he looked at me,
"I don't care. You can see what the topic is. Teach us."
I grabbed my books and headed to the front of the class. I stood there, red faced, sweating, my frenzied mind unable to locate a point to start on. I stammered, trying to find something, drowning in my words, flipping through pages of my scriptures and manual. After what felt like minutes of this uncomfortable, embarrassing display, the teacher chimed in,
"You don't need those."
He closed both books and slid them to the end of the desk in front of me. Surprised, and thinking he was kidding for some reason, I stepped toward and reached for my books. He grabbed them and moved them to his own desk.
"You're using these as crutches. You don't need them."
I was astounded. The things that bad dreams are made of were materializing right in front of me (thankfully, I was still fully clothed). I knew the topic, but didn't know it well enough to teach it. I had a question come to my mind, so I asked it. A pair of people started sharing their answers and as I listened, another question came to mind. The discussion snowballed, and we ended up having a great lesson with one another. I wasn't struck with an entire lesson plan, but that one question, was a tiny step in the right direction that got us where we needed to go.
The phrase, "You're using these as crutches," not only served me well in that classroom that day, but served me as I lived in New York and even to this day will come up when needed. The fact is, you and I probably use crutches in our life more than we'd like to admit.
Take it from someone who has had enough sprained/broken ankles to know the value of crutches. They are a great tool to allow mobility when it would be difficult without them. However, using them constantly would weaken one of your legs (and if I can be totally candid, give you sore and bloody armpits, and some nice blisters). Crutches can be a number of things, a job, a negative habit, a limited ideal. The thing about them is they don't have to be negative influences. Sometimes you have to get into a job, or stay in a job, because you have bills, rent, etc. Sometimes a habit that you've developed preserves your sanity. Sometimes you believe something in your life because if you didn't you'd crash down in a deep depression. Crutches may be helpful in some of these situations.
In the above TED Talk, Amy Purdy shares her journey where she had to overcome multiple physical and mental crutches to go on and do great things. No one would have blamed Amy if she had, through "practicality", deduced that there were things that she couldn't do anymore. If she had lowered the ceiling on the potential that she had in life, no one would have thought twice about it. I love her line,
"Our borders, our obstacles can only do two things - 1) Stop us in our tracks or 2) force us to get creative."
Amy got creative and designed equipment that would allow her to continue on with her passion of snowboarding. She showed extraordinary willpower and strength to overcome her physical obstacles. She helps me realize that no matter what, there is a solution to whatever problems that we face in our lives.
My call to myself and to anyone who this message has struck a chord - do three things:
1) Examine, deeply and honestly, what crutches are keeping you from thriving.
2) Ponder creative ways to eliminate that crutch from your life.
3) Act. Do something, no matter how small, to move yourself in that direction.
It can be a difficult, uncomfortable, embarrassing process, but I can promise, through experience, that small acts begin the passage to the biggest changes.
I came across an interesting concept as I was reading Sir Ken Robinson's book The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything. In a chapter he titles Is It Too Late? he discusses the plasticity of our brains and discusses the learning that takes place in our early lives. When specifically discussing language he states,
"Babies don't learn to speak by instruction. They learn by imitation and inference."
This section made me think immediately of my 7 month old daughter and how she is developing and made me realize that the pace of growth that she is progressing at puts my growth to shame. Everything she does is learning - how to function in life, to use her body, her voice, pains and tiredness, discovering new people, and knowing what to do to get what she wants (which she's getting scary good at). She is discovering new things every day.
Taking this concept, I concluded that there are many things that our young ones can teach us about how to have a more fulfilling life. But first, a couple great videos!
Kids are filled with curiosity
Kids are constantly wondering about things they see, think, and feel. For our daughter Gwen, there was about a week where numerous times throughout the day we would see her just staring at her hand. She would move her fingers, move her hand back and forth, then try to gouge her eyes out. As kids get older there are various stages, the get-into-everything stage, the 'why' stage, the ever dangerous boys/girls-are-starting-to-get-interesting phase. Curiosity propels them each and every day to figure things out. These times of discovery last with us forever, popping up every once in a while as nostalgia, remembering what it was like to ride a bike for the first time, or when we summoned enough courage to ask that girl to dance.
Somewhere along the line, we lose (or have taken from us) that sense of curiosity, feeling like our value lies in knowing things. This is a mistake. William Arthur Ward stated, "Curiosity is the wick in the candle of learning." By losing our curiosity, we will never be able to gain the kind of knowledge we need to succeed in finding our passions.
Kids aren't afraid of failure
Curiosity leads to all sorts of escapades - some good, some bad, most great if you're able to get them on camera. Kids will try almost anything, say almost anything, and do it over and over again. You only have to observe a child attempting to walk to realize that no matter how many times they fall down, they're going to get up and try it again. Again, as we grow older and start to "know" more about the world, fear creeps in and we stop doing things because we think we'll fail. We are creatures that like to take the easy route. Inside our brains, that easy route spots more obstacles and reasons not to do something. Our kids learn so well because they don't care about how they look or what other people think. This trait would help so many people, and is essential in finding your passion in life
If necessary, cry it out
Many may be thinking, 'But kids get hurt, they cry, they get into trouble, etc.' You are right. However, you are wrong in the fact that this is a negative thing. Children generally get over things quickly, they have a quick cry, they get consolation, and they move on. I'm noticing an epidemic of self pity in our society today and as one who is at times stricken with it, I know very personally how destructive it can be to get into the habit of dwelling on failures. In small doses, a good cry can be beneficial. Prolonged pity, however, creates a cycle of negativity that stops you dead in your tracks. There is nothing wrong with getting hurt because you took a chance, or a small amount of trouble. In our failures we learn valuable lessons that can't be learned by reading, thinking, or any other thing but experience. Sometimes those lessons do hurt, but if we are ever going to be fulfilled by our passion, we must learn to get over things quickly and keep moving forward.
Be curious, don't be afraid to fail, and if necessary cry it out and move on. These are things I'm trying to do in my own life in order to increase my rate of my learning. Going back to the quote that started this all, Brian Tracy reenforces this entire concept and brings is full circle. Our curious, not-afraid-to-fail mindsets will allow us to imitate with just as much success as our kids.
My name is Brian and I have a voice and something valuable to say. I'm on a quest to discover myself and the world around me. Join me and together we can do good in the world.