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So yesterday I wrote about knowing what good and bad expectations for yourself were based on how much time you wanted to spend trying to achieve them. Not doing the work required in getting a perfect score on a test (like a reasonable amount of studying) would cause you not to reach that expectation, whether it be one you set for yourself or one someone else set for you. Today, however, I’m going to talk about what happens when you, let’s say, don’t learn from your mistakes.
A lot of people cite procrastination as a horrible flaw that they possess and wish they didn’t have. It’s a good New Year’s resolution sort of a flaw. “This year I’m not going to procrastinate” is usually met with the same exact resolution the following year. It’s an easy one to screw up, like eating too much chocolate or not biking eighteen miles to the gym and back every day. I know a good many procrastinators, and some are still very good workers despite all of this.
Because they are acutely aware at what it takes for them to get something done. They are not telling themselves that the expectation is to not procrastinate. They are telling themselves that their expectation is to get things done and do it. It might take them to the last possible second, which while not a great idea most of the time, is something that works for them. They have found a way to balance their lives with their work and, despite teachers warning about how awful it is to sit on your thumbs until the night before a due date, they do it and then get it done in a mad fever dash. Still, they walk away with their good grades and all is well. It’s not even that they want to put themselves in that kind of stressful situation of ‘oh boy, twelve hours till class and I got nothing” but they do it subconsciously and then power through the work. Sometimes it’s not even subconscious. It’s a very deliberate act, as though they know that trying to write a few paragraphs within that first few hours would be akin to trying to chop down a sequoia with a butter knife. Sure you would be doing something, but it doesn’t actually accomplish anything.
Accepting your productivity flaws and figuring out a way to work around them can sometimes be a little bit fiddly, like having to make your font a certain style and size before you type. That is not the kind of flaw I am talking about. No one is perfect, but knowing where your imperfections are and doing what you kind to circumvent them is a vital part of learning how to learn, even if it means having a social life until that Sunday night before your big class presentation. If it meets your goals, which I hope is to do more than to just pass a class for the sake of passing it, then by all means do what you have to do.
It is okay to fail sometimes, so long as that “big picture” you have in your mind about what you want to accomplish is still smoothly sailing along. The idea of “Graduating From College” is a goal comprised of about eight hundred million smaller ones. Pick and chose where to concentrate your efforts and don’t set flawed expectations of yourself in order to get there. If you’ve never gotten past page three of War and Peace, trying out for the eight consecutive January is probably not going to end well. Just because Charlie Brown tried to force his way through classic Russian Literature does not mean you also have to, watch the 1956 film instead. Three and a half hours in front of the TV is a walk in the park for almost anyone compared to a 1200 page novel…and I’d be hard-pressed to try and consider that a flaw.
Similar to my previous post, this is more aimed toward older students (high school and possibly college) than it is to someone who is trying harder to learn to read than to learn to understand exactly what Richard III is really talking about. Being that I was in high school and college at one point or another, I do remember what kind of schoolwork-doing conditions I had waiting for me every evening. I’d love to blame this on the ability of my parents to keep a clean house, but really I just was not very good at organizing, well, anything at all.
First, let’s talk distractions. Distractions are fine so long as are existing more as a noun than a verb. I mean, some people work just fine with music or television noise, while others would bar them from the area as all capital and bold DISTRACTIONS. What I will say about something like a TV is to keep accessories out of sight so as to not tempt yourself to spend way too long looking for a good movie to watch or really wanting to get to another save point (or whatever the kids are doing in gaming these days). If you think you can work with it, fine, but otherwise get it off and get it as out of sight as you can.
Desks are important, because I’ve never found myself any good at doing work from on a mattress (or even on the floor). Get something as big as you possibly can, but when I say this I’m specifically talking about workable surface area. Storage should be as little as you can handle and not suddenly turn your desk into a mountain of paper and old soda cans. This is a work space, not a chest of drawers with a computer on it (though if that is all the space you have, go for it).
I’m not going to say much on computing devices except to say you should probably have one by now and it should fit your needs. As long as it is able to help you do your work and not be a super-huge distraction with blinking lights (I just typed ‘likes” there, which is somewhat apropos) and hyperlinks then everything will be okay. Use technology for good, not evil. This is supposed to be a learning environment, after all.
You need to be comfortable, but not so much that you find yourself waking up at two in the morning drooling onto a chart of mammal migration through history. Have comfort, but be able to get things done (Like what I did there?). Get a good chair, a yoga ball, or even a treadmill-style desk if you don’t think your parents will mind you humming along at your homework at two miles per hour. That might be a hard sell, but just stay away from the bed, beanbag chairs, and anything else that looks like it belongs in a preschool’s nap area.
Give everything a place. This shouldn’t be hard. If everything has a place, then it becomes difficult to let anything be out of place except when it is being used. Okay, so maybe I stole this one from Alton Brown about his kitchen, but that is just as much a work area as this is – it just probably doesn’t smell as nice. I’m not trying to play parent here and tell you to “just clean your room” already, but there is a reason people seem to be slightly more energized after spring cleanings are done and after a house is given a nice top-to-bottom spit shine. There’s no anxiety that something is not where it should be, or that you can’t find that one thing you need to get some other thing done and oh, no, it needs to be done tomorrow and I think I left it in the back pocket of my jeans and I think they are in the dirty clothes hamper or maybe it’s in one of my eight drawers and ooooooohhhh, I give up.
If you feel like giving up, try cleaning up. You just might find that inspiration, and your worksheet about the quadratic equation that fell behind the file cabinet, you were looking for.
I own four televisions. One sits in a corner collecting dust, unplugged. Two more are hooked into a power supply and some kind of recorded video device (either built-in or separate). The last is plugged into a video game console and an AppleTV. It has been this way, or close to this way, for around two years now. No, I don’t have traditional cable or satellite service and no, I really don’t want it.
I was paying somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 for my satellite television, Netflix subscription, and internet/phone privileges, with the internet being somewhat slow and buggy. Now, I pay somewhere in the range of $80 for much faster cable internet service, no traditional phone service, and a Netflix subscription. There are things I do miss, though if I really wished to watch these things I am certain I could find them around the web, either legally or illegally. It’s not exactly difficult.
Traditional television has been on a decline, and the networks know it. DVRs have made us hate commercials even more than we ever have, and a gluttony of reality television is filling the airwaves and leaving people that remember “the good old days” shaking their head that they are stuck watching celebrities dance or dive instead of seeing them, you know, act. These shows do get ratings, though some of it might have to do with the fact that there is at least a sliver of car crash quality to them, and if you fill the airwaves with enough junk people are just going to start divvying up the junk among each other.
Television was built on the back of commercials. That’s why you had so many early shows sponsored completely by one company or one brand (or at most two or three brands). This was a hold-over from the days of radio, but the point is the same. They need the company’s money to be able to make their programs and pay the creative people. It’s just too bad that we hate this and desperately want it to go away.
Think of all the ways you can get television content without regular service. There’s Netflix, Hulu, iTunes, illegal downloading (if you must) and various other websites that either offer similar services to Hulu/Netflix or are the actual television companies’ official websites! Sure, they give you the content a day later than it is actually scheduled, and it still has commercials, but it doesn’t cost you a cable bill to see them (though it does cost internet, which a lot more people have quality service of now). With the rise of sites like Youtube and Dailymotion, some content creators are skipping the entire idea of commercializing all together (or doing it themselves) because they are more worried about making good content than how much it is worth to a sponsor.
Netflix paid for an entire season of a show, House of Cards, that you can only get through them…and then they released the entire season all at once. Sure, they are able to use subscription fees to make up money that companies like CBS and NBC would get from commercials, but if I really wanted an entire season of any of their shows all at once I’d have to wait until after it had already stumbled through the traditional 24 episodes over 8 months model and then pay for a DVD or a good chunk of GBs through iTunes, Google Play, or Amazon.
Don’t get me wrong, I know that some shows air episodes while later episodes are still in production, but I’d be more than happy to wait a few extra months with zero content if I could get all of it at once. For how many channels I watched and how many shows on those channels I actively looked forward to and cared about, I’d be willing to pay something for them because I like them. Heck, in some cases it might even equal out to what I would have paid for satellite service, though I’m sure it would not equal out to eight months worth.
There are only so many episodes of anything a person can watch, and there is way more than that just in existence being produced as we speak. Networks give shows a very short time-span to capture an audience, then dump them, when they could allow more niche programming a smaller cost but covering a wider viewership. You can not create ON DEMAND and then append “SOMETIMES” or “A LITTLE” at the end of it. It’s just not going to be sustainable for much longer.
Sports can make their way without the networks. People will pay to watch sports, somehow you can get their money. Maybe start by not just blacking it out for no reason and making prices a little bit closer to reasonable and people will flock to you. You could probably even do traditional commercials on top of asking me for money, and I’d still probably do it. I know I’d have to follow your schedule and could not just press a few buttons to make two teams play for my amusement, but just because something is LIVE doesn’t mean I should have to suffer if I don’t have coax coming out of my wall. NHL, NBA, and MLB services exist now and will only grow in popularity in the future, regardless of all the silly black out rules (Canada can’t see any Blue Jays games live, that’s insane). The NFL hasn’t followed suit because of it’s sixteen game season and because it’s found a way to make a lot more money by offering only the good parts (Redzone) for a premium to one satellite provider, even though any football fan would gladly fork over cash to be as up-to-date as possible.
We live in a continuously evolving information age, and it’s painful to see television so far behind the curve of making sure people have the information that they want when they want it. Of course, that information might just be an overweight C-list celebrity crying while stumbling their way through a 45-minute treadmill exercise, but it’s still information. We may never get to a society of “zero TVs”, but (with the exception of sports and news) the tradition of scheduling video-based entertainment is collapsing as a dynasty. Rome is burning, and the fiddles play on.
This comic from xkcd is a little over two years old. It was never my intention to write a blog post about it, or in any way tangentially related to it – but here I am today. The real point of this whole thing lies in the very first panel – as the main character would love to “major in the universe” because of his apparent interest in everything. As he finds out, this is about as easy as it sounds.
But why is it so hard?
We spend the first twelve or so years of our educational existence being beaten and molded into generalists. People will a tiny bit of knowledge about as much as the various school systems deem necessary. Math, Science, English, Foreign Languages, History, Health, Tech, Home Economics, Physical Education, Shop class…and tons of others that just barely scratch the surface of the wealth of knowledge that each of these subjects contains (outside of probably Gym class). Then, when we get ourselves to college and graduate school, the last thing they want us to do is be generalists. We have to specialize in a major of study. Even simply being “Liberal Arts” ties you to a group of subjects, even if it is slightly broader than simply “Biology” or whatever. Yes, Yes, I know that once you get inside of a big subject there is even more specialization and compartmentalizing, but compared to your high school days even grabbing one umbrella is a change from carrying the dozen or so you were used to.
Let’s postulate that somehow, someway, it was decided that you could actually “major in everything”. How long would that take? Even with graduate schools, most students are out into their chosen careers after around six years. Is six years enough time to drill down farther into everything than high school allowed you to? If you even for a moment decide to spend a little extra time on one subject does that throw it all out the window? Is it even fair to have your college major be “everything”? Who would even hire you?
It can be said that people that skip college are basically deciding to major in everything, or at least are trying a whole different path to what they are interested in without the need for tuition, oral exams, and report cards. Some of those people might never find that one thing they truly want, and I’m sure you can say that about quite a few college students, too, especially when you notice how much people begin to fret about the fact that they are “undeclared” a little later than they should be. So if you want to be a generalist, should you skip college? Again, could you talk your way into a degree-based job on the back of “general knowledge”?
It’s becoming a more pervasive ideology in today’s business world that, at least in some cases, the simple notion of having a college degree matters more than what kind of degree it is or what subject you came from. Obviously this isn’t always true, but I should not have to spell out that no one is going to hire you as a doctor if you are out throwing around business cards and flashing a Journalism degree like it’s a secret weapon in the war on cancer (but, I spelled it out anyway). Still, having a degree is seen as better because that took way more work than just throwing your mortar board in the air at seventeen and making a run for it.
I like to consider myself closer to the generalist mindset than any kind of specialist, mainly because the one thing a generalist can potentially be better at than a specialist is understanding how things fit together. Anyone that has ever seen a battle between marketing and engineering, or front- and back-end web development, or even wait staff and cooking staff, knows that not everyone pays attention to what everyone else is doing if they are ignorant to the processes involved therein. We all tend to make assumptions about others based on the way our job works or what we want, but a generalist can tell you much quicker than a specialist how each piece fits in its own special place – and heck, a generalist might be able to do work on both sides of that battlefield, saving each group from the ire of the other. Amazing how that works, right? I might be the best billboard-based advertiser you have ever seen, but if all you are doing is throwing ads onto the radio and into newspapers I might be a little bit closer to useless than I would be otherwise. Don’t look at me for help, looking for other specialists or grab up a few generalists that could probably pound out the work a tad bit slower, but probably also for less cash and you might not have to replace them every time the situation changes direction.
Yes, every student at the end of high school falls under the category of “generalist”, but why does it ever have to stop there? I’d rather be a better generalist than the best specialist any day of the week. Specialization can change or disappear rather rapidly, having their places filled by general knowledge workers that might not know everything about your favorite programming language – but they do know the fifty most important things and also the steps necessary to research how to do anything else that might pop up. Okay, maybe that’s a little too general of a statement (pun intended), but if college and your career is about doing what interests you and you just so happen to actually be interested in the entire universe. Make the most of it. That should be just as allowed as majoring in Business Management, and probably more useful. Who knows what you might find if you are out looking for everything instead of desperately hunting for that one thing.
Within reach of (or on) my desk, I have seven spiral notebooks, four notepads, 1 sketchpad, quite a lot of index cards, a stack of Post-Its, 4 Moleskine notebooks, and 13 Field Notes memobooks. I also have the computer I’m typing this on, my phone, and my tablet – all of which give me a place to write or type any possible thing I wish. I have absolutely far too many places with which to take notes.
There is no real reason for my packrat attitude when it comes to notebooks (and writing instruments, of which I also have plenty). Even if I had enough projects with which to put in all of these places, I would sooner just use EverNote or Microsoft One Note and throw it all there, spending some time each note transferring notes from paper to PC whenever I was able. I also have quite a bit of loose paper laying around, both plain for printing and punched & lined for binders which I also probably have a few scattered around. It’s silly, and I fully accept that.
GTD (Getting Things Done, copyright Davidco 2001) tells me to always write everything down – to get it out of my head where I don’t need it. The aforementioned Field Notes uses a very simple slogan – “I’m not writing it down to remember it later, I’m writing it down to remember it now” to further give a clue as to what exactly one needs to do with all of this <expletive deleted> paper that is laying around. I am sure you, my dear readers, also are quite fond of notebooks, notepads, and all other forms of note taking devices which are also no doubt clogging up some of your living and/or working space.
When I was in school, I generally have either a single-subject notebook for every class or I would arm myself with two (or maybe three) multi-subject notebooks to get me through my day. All you really need in school, for any class, is a place to write down important information – which just so happens to be almost everything. I was never good at note-taking in school. I assumed, like all apparently smart students, that I could just remember it and be able to recall it later when it was absolutely necessary. This did not always work, as I was not gifted with any sort of eidetic (re: photographic) memory that would help in this task. I just flew by the seat of my pants, usually ending with them on fire. Such is life.
Always carry a notebook. Yes, a smartphone will work – and can be quite helpful with things such as it’s camera and voice recording capabilities. I know that educators would see such devices as cheating, which I will accept, but that is why you carry the notebook. Do not, however, carry the notebook to help yourself cheat in similar fashion to just having a phone tucked down between your thighs. If you are willing to do enough work to create a cheating device, you should be more than capable of doing the work required to study and get good grades fair and square.
Don’t forget a pen. It sounds silly of me to say this, but you can’t use one without the other, unless you are a whizkid at incredibly expressive origami. Heck, just write that in big black marker on the front of your little pocket notebooks. Remember Pen! Simple, effective, smart.
Write Everything Down. Okay, maybe I’m not asking you to be Nicholas Felton, a guy who writes down literally everything he does, who he talks to, where he eats, where he goes, etc. and then makes a gigantic PDF annual report about himself (and puts it up both for sale and for free), but if you are even the tiniest bit absentminded or wish you could remember that one movie or that one thing or that one song or whatever one thing you have – just write it down. Using a computer to catalog your insanity is perfectly acceptable, as Merlin Mann has talked about one quite a few podcasts over the last few years. You would be amazed at how much you forget when you don’t remember to remember.
I’m thinking that if I write down everything thought I have, eventually maybe one of them will be good. Fingers crossed.
I don’t like to pick on Fox News, despite the ease of which it can be done, but today they featured a story about how ‘technology is rewiring our children’s brains’. At first, I was expecting the story to be some kind of weird Footloose “rock and roll is bad!” ranting about digital media and devices like smartphones, tablets, and even video game consoles. To be fair, it did start as that before glancing, albeit briefly, on the real sticking point for the story.
You should not use technology as a crutch for parenting. I hear all kinds of parents that joke about using smartphones and tablets as a kind of electronic babysitter. Of course, you can use these devices as an educational tool, tablets especially, as “Education” is a large category of applications available on just about every platform. Holing oneself up in a room next to a glowing screen (I’m shaking my head at myself as I type this) is not the healthiest course of behavior. It is definitely not a best practice for a small child. A lot of what junior/middle/high-school aged kids think of as ‘socializing’ involves, ta-da, social media. That is where the world is going. There is, Dr. Ablow, a difference between connecting to others through digital devices and disconnecting from the world through one. There can be obvious signs, though if a parent has been using a smartphone or touch-screen as a way to deflect the task of actually, you know, parenting, then they might not notice (or ever notice) these signs.
In a classroom it can be even worse, especially with the rise of e-textbooks and guiding instruction through computer screens than blackboards. Tablets are a fantastic way for young children to grasp problem-solving and rudimentary cause-and-effect knowledge (I tap ___ to make ___ happen) in ways that books could have never done. Obviously you have to be willing to let someone of pre-K or Kindergarten age actually use these things, but just as a parent thirty years ago may have read a book with a child or built a house with blocks, a parent today can interact with the world through a whole different kind of touch and in a whole new world of discovery. They just have to be not only willing to put their two-to-five hundred dollar devices in the hands of their children, but also willing to put down their own phones and own laptops and actually interact with their living, breathing, growing offspring.
You are right, Fox News, that technology is absolutely capable of re-wiring our children’s minds unlike anything we’ve ever seen before, but that doesn’t mean that we do not have a say in where those wires go and what they connect with. It’s not a crutch, so don’t let it be one. It’s a tool. Use it wisely.
For the uninitiated, the city of Chicago is planning to shut down 53 elementary level schools and one high school in the foreseeable future, mainly to help streamline costs and take care of a hefty budget deficit.
I am not from Chicago, nor have I ever been there. I do not know the neighborhoods and while my research has shown there seems to be a racial bend to some of the protesting (right or wrong, again, I am not sure) I am going to step aside from that and leave that to locals that know better than I do.
What I am going to ask is a very simple question: Are the reasons for closing down 54 educational programs and consolidating them good ones? If you begin shouting at your monitor for me to look back up to what I just typed two paragraphs ago and re-read where I wrote about a deficit – fine. There are some money problems in the Chicago area. A billion dollars is not exactly chump change, by any means, and that is something that needs to be addressed by the people in charge.
Where I fall on the idea of school consolidation and closing is simple. If you are able to provide a better education for someone with minimal extra effort on the part of the student (and the student’s family) than by all means go for it. Do what you have to do. Again, I don’t live in Chicago and have no clue what it would mean for one school to consolidate into another school even ten blocks away. But if I am a parent and the impact on getting my child to a better school is negligible, then I will do my best to accommodate that. The problem, of course, is that while mayor Rahm Emanuel continues to tout how much better the system is going to be, it’s hard to see that from the point of view of the populous of a major city and the students that are a part of that system. What about them?
It’s not just under-enrollment that is being looked at as a reason to consolidate, but also poor academics. If this is the fault of the teacher, which is possible, then those teachers simply should not be employed. That’s not always an easy judgment to make, though. If the failing is the student’s “fault”, then what about these new consolidated schools is going to make things better? Are there going to be bigger class sizes with fewer educators? Studies show that the costs associated with consolidation can sometimes be underestimated by school districts, and with Chicago planning the largest in the history of the country, I (and I’m sure every single local resident) would love to see where that money is going to come from or how long it will take to balance out in terms related to the looming deficit.
Yelling about public money problems and looking to education as the answer while simultaneously handing out tax breaks is the kind of the thing that can make blood boil, and a quick check of the news shows that it indeed is coming to a rolling boil. The education of future generations should never be compromised, especially if there are other much less worthy causes one can cease doing to pad the pockets of the public (alliteration!). But go ahead and close them. Prove me wrong. Prove every single parent, teacher, student, and watchful eye wrong. Show us all that shutting down these schools will not only create a better standard of education, but a better standard of living. Show us that you know how to use what taxpayer money you are given effectively and maybe, just maybe, all of those signs in front of your office plastered with “One Term Mayor” will change to heartfelt ‘thank you’s and gracious praise. This is not about numbers in a ledger, or votes, or even standardized test scores. This is about doing what is right for as many people as possible. Not just the 1%, the 47%, or even the 99%.
Do it for the 100%.
If that’s not possible, be honest. People will listen. They might even help. All you have to do is give them a good reason.
For one reason or another, I “run” three blogs. This one, Apparently Awesome, which hosts a podcast where I act silly and talk about what it would be like if comic book superheroes were real, and Apparently An Angels Fan, where I will talk about baseball once the season gets underway(tomorrow).
I never intended either of these sites to have a whole lot of content. Three posts a week would be more a total accident than a reasonable expectation. This site, however, was always meant to have a good bit of content. I started with a bit of a harsh goal, posting every weekday at noon, and I should have realized I was not capable of that.
I put weird pressures on myself sometimes, and as such this site has suffered. I have psychological issues based around originality, probably perfection, and problems based around my own ego and also maddening self-doubt that I will never be able to accomplish anything (of substance or not) before it is too late, whatever that means.
There are literally zero reasons anyone should listen to how I feel about education, business, or otherwise. Zero. Deep down, though, I know I am on the cusp of something and that living through my education and my employment has given me at least something of a base to build from. Everyone has to start somewhere, right? I have just chosen to start in perhaps the worst possible place for what my goals are – if I even know what they are at this point. My only expertise is in trying to question failures, either known or potential, and trying to figure out where things go wrong in the hopes of preventing their repeat occurrence. I chose to do this with things like school and jobs because they are the things people most complain about. That just makes sense.
So where does this leave me? Well, I am taking questions. I’m pretty much open to answering anything, even if I have no idea what I’m talking about(that much is obvious). I can be found here, or even here, though I take my twitter account about as seriously as I do my podcast. That’s a fair enough warning. I can’t exist without humor, even if it happens to be self-deprecating or somewhat blue I. It’s nature.
I want to fix things, truly I just have to start with myself.
I wonder sometimes why I’m so special. Then, once that haze goes away, I stare blankly at the walls for a while until I remember that I’m supposed to be shouting from rooftops and soapboxes and other stereotypical high places. So then I come here and rattle off a few hundred words that few people will ever see and even fewer will potentially care about. But I care, even though it doesn’t always seem like it or come across like I do.
I want things to change. I would not have typed up my last post if I didn’t want things to be different from how they are now. I’ve heard from close friends (at least one anyway) that my entire idea (all of it, seriously) is almost doomed to failure before it begins because the mindset of the teenager is stuck firmly in the grasp of “Why on Earth should I care about something that doesn’t matter at all right now?” and, if you had paid close attention to my previous ramblings you would know that my answer is that it does matter. It matters more than even I truly want to admit.
Right Now, Right Now
The key part of the above teenage brain response is “right now” and it is the part that bothers me most. It is not that I am trying to destroy childhood, crush fun, or steamroll over the lines in the sand that separate children from adults. “I can’t worry about college or my career, I have football games to go to and parties to attend, dances, mixers, and flash mobs to organize, illegalities and taboos to commit and tons of things that I need to put on Facebook right now.” Okay, sure, I’m veering erratically into the “those darn kids’ and ‘get a job!’ territory, I understand. Again, I’m no Captain Hook here. The difference between the ‘right now’ you are fighting so hard for and the future you are neglecting is that sooner than you can even fathom that future will be your ‘right now’, and while networking and extroversion can be fantastic traits to hone and polish, it’s not going to be the only things you need to succeed (except in some very specific cases). It comes back to the old adage of “do it now, because before you know it everything is over.” People like to throw that one around close to graduation time, but here I am thinking that those things should have been chiseled into our eyelids at 14 or 15 so that we aren’t looking back on high school as a truckload of missed opportunities peppered with the ingredients of a fantastic photo album.
I want students to think about their careers right now. I want them to think about the future right now. I want them to study not just Math, Science, English, Art, Language, but Themselves. Even though I feel I could never actually be a teacher, I would teach a class in YOU. It’s astonishing how much I have learned about myself during sleepless nights of reminiscing and meditations on old conversations. It’s a hard pill to swallow, knowing that you weren’t paying enough attention to yourself in the moment. All those people who say “I wish I could talk to my 16-year-old self” are the people who realize that, short of trying to play Gray’s Sports Almanac with their past, they look back on those times and see that they made dumb decisions that, while not being earth-shattering, still impacted their future and now they want to change it. They want to tell themselves to do better at Math, or pay more attention in Science, or try out for a play or a band, or whatever it is they feel like they missed out on but don’t have the ability to change now that ‘right now’ matters way less than the ‘right now’ of their childhood mattered then.
It’s Never Too Late
Rodney Dangerfield did not become a breakout show business star until he was 45 years old and didn’t peak until his 60s. This is just one example people to use when pointing out that it is never too late to hit it big and be a success. I don’t really want to knock him down or disrespect him (pun somewhat intended) but this is about as uncommon an outcome as can possibly be imagined. Never mind the fact that Dangerfield started out writing for comedians at the age of (a-ha!) 15 and did other show business type of things in his 20s. People tend to forget that. He had a dream at a young age and did things necessary to try and get there, even if he had a failure early on he persevered and didn’t give up in spite of anything. Here I am, age 30, having spent my 20s confused, somewhat frightened, and all together searching for an answer to what screwed me up so bad. I don’t think it’s too late for me either, even if you want to call this a quarter-to-mid-life crisis or something, but at least I figured something out and want to change it. Granted, it’s a good thing I don’t want to rush out and become a doctor or a lawyer, that might be a little bit out of my dream range at this point.
If I was 15, though, and DOCTOR was what I wanted the world to call me, I’d best get myself in gear. If I was 19 and wanted the same, but was settling in for a long night of poetry-writing, coffee-tasting, and getting prepped to back-pack across Europe for the next six months, medical school might be a little bit outside of my wheelhouse. In that instance, it would be too late unless I really put the brakes on my life and turned that car around with the grace of a Tokyo Drifter. It’s amazing how much perfect sense the phrase “you can’t be late if you’re early” makes when you are talking about things like this.
Yeah, I’d teach a YOU class. Part psychoanalysis, part philosophy, part CareerBuilder & LinkedIn and who knows what else. I doubt anyone would look at me, standing their in a polo shirt and pleated pants, and seriously ask me “Why on Earth should I care about something that doesn’t matter like myself right now?” because if their is anything any adult will tell you it’s that teenagers are incredibly egotistical and self-centered (insert smiley face) and would never dream of saying that they don’t matter, even if maybe deep down they think it. Don’t think it, not deep down, not at all. It’s perfectly all right to say that you matter. The difference between mattering the way you (stereotypically) think you do and the way that I think you do is that I’m not so much worried about what the cheerleaders think of you or the football team thinks of you or even what your third period Geometry teacher thinks of you. I’m worried about what your boss might think of you, or your college adviser, or a publisher, or even what ten million people on the internet think of you when you are trying for a raise, picking a major, writing a novel, or starring in a breakout film. That’s what you should be learning about yourself, and oddly enough, at the end of all of this, it might just be what I need to teach. Talk about making a difference in yourself…
Okay, I’m done screwing around.
I was never able to answer this question. Well, not correctly anyway. When I was 15 or 16 (an age I will come back to) I thought I knew what I wanted. I was severely wrong. I had an answer, but I had not shown my work, as it were. I didn’t know what it meant to get from that question to my answer. What my answer was at the time isn’t important, but what is important is that I was wrong and am sitting here 15 years later no closer to a real answer than I was then.
That’s a problem, since I’ve been through college and everything. I finally realized my initial answer was wrong when I got to the part of my education when I needed it to be correct. I pushed myself in that direction blindly and fell off the cliff shortly after. So here I am now, angry at myself, annoyed, and not wanting to see any other quote-unquote smart people have the same problem that I did.
So ask yourself the question and get a good answer. Get a smart answer. If you are between the ages of 15 and 17, then you have the best shot of getting this right and doing the work necessary to make sure it’s right. That was the step I missed. That was what ruined me.
Let’s say you know that you want to be a teacher. It might be good to have public speaking skills, leadership skills, take up tutoring, get your feet wet in the system and see if it’s actually something you can do. Also no visible tattoos, they don’t seem to like that very much. If these things seem like impossible to accomplish, then teaching probably will not be in your best interest. You might be able to earn a degree, especially through that whole “passing =/= learning” thing I like to continuously harp on. If you have ever heard one teacher remark on the lesser abilities of another teacher, you know this is a possible outcome to having a dream but not understanding the reality, just like I did a decade and a half ago.
You need to know your positive and negative traits when you look at career choices. I am not saying it is impossible to teach yourself to have the traits you need and to suppress the ones you don’t need. It can be done, but it does help to start early. If there is anything you learn from this, and what I hope to teach the most, is that the earlier you can get a concrete answer to this question, the better. “I don’t know” is not and will never be an acceptable final answer. It’s at least a knowledgable starting point, because it shows you that you might not be as prepared for things as you think you are.
It’s also okay to go through a few answers before you get a solid choice, but the more you can narrow things down the better. Still, speed is at your benefit, but if you play it the way I did it can be at your detriment. I feel as though I wasted three years of my life thinking about something I was never, ever going to be qualified for. Okay, that might be a cop-out. I could very well have gotten myself qualified if I had known anything about what I was trying to do. I went from the ground to a one hundred foot high tightrope without getting my balance even two feet off the floor. It was a bad move, all because I did not show my work in answering what most people would consider the silliest question they are ever asked growing up.
…what do you want to be?