I bought the ticket on a whim. There was a thought buzzing around my head that I wasn't taking enough advantage of the fact that I'm living next-door to the Greatest City in the World. And since I'm in love with the mind-expanding YouTube channel THNKR, and they partnered with 92Y to produce the panel, I felt compelled to go.
While I'm no educator, The Future of Learning discussion hit hard to reinforce what I'd been bouncing around in my head for awhile - this overwhelming sense that our biggest threat to learning today is education. There is a difference. We grow up through a school system that pushes us to learn almost as a formally forced punishment, rarely considering the passion and motivation that can exist there. Learning becomes dirty, painful, something to escape from. Passion becomes secondary to work.
THNKR and 92Y brought together some amazing people fighting to make learning our means of education again. What I gathered from Jake Schwartz, Abigail Besdin, Joe Hall, and Joel Rose was that the objective should be to motivate others to learn what we need to learn and decide what we want to learn. No longer should we be launched into the world with a piece of paper and the only expectations remain to carve out a career, find a partner, and, most importantly, pay our bills. We're not expected nearly as much to learn as adults - just do your job. Hell, some of us are so conditioned by our Dorm Days we make the promise to ourselves to never cram like that again, never stay up late frantically smashing keys to put together a term paper. If we just get through this, we'll never learn again!
Of course, that's far from the truth. We learn every day, it just feels different. What we need is the motivation to learn for our own sake, not for the satisfaction of some social benchmark or progress report. Joe Hall, founder of the Ghetto Film School in the Bronx, planted the thought in my head best when he said, "If you can experience success, it moves you."
I'm not sure what psychological diagnosis would describe why I read personal development books, I just know I want success to move me and they promise it. It's enough to look past the corny white guy on the book covers, suited up and promising radical change in minimal time. David Allen was that guy on my coffee-table this week with the book Getting Things Done. I was initially captivated by his TED talk about the importance of emptying our heads of the endless to-do lists and flowing through our days, taking action with a "mind like water". Cool stuff. A third of the way through the book, though, my eyes glazed over. There were labels and folders and talk of organizational hierarchy. I jumped into this book with the thought of karate-chopping the obstacles of my day and I was starting to be confronted with the system's benefits more suited for Executive Suits at cubicle desks.
My thought is that's just how people feel when they're confronted with learning something outside of their education. They're not motivated themselves and they're met with feelings of ignorance and arrogance. When we're confronted with people telling us how to live our lives, whether in books or videos or CD sets, we're immediately on the defensive. We're taken back to detention and piles of homework. Who knows us better than ourselves at this point? We should be adults prepared for the Real World, right!?
We're not dumb. We know we need to set regular, manageable, slightly-uncomfortable goals and success begets success and the decision to act requires some sacrifice. It's not an absence of information, we have the entire world at our fingertips. The trouble is when personal development fails to address the step beyond that. As much as I enjoyed the book, David Allen is guilty too. Often laid out is the thoughts and actions we need to take to become our own Hero and we fail to give enough space on the page to recognize motivation. It is getting our ass up, machete-in-hand, and hacking down the big tasks.
After years of somehow missing it, I sat down today to watch Good Will Hunting, and it fit this idea perfectly. Sean Maguire (Robin Williams) nails down Will Hunting (Matt Damon) when he notices his youthful arrogance in replacing the world he has seen in books for that which is right outside his grasp of life experience. His genius is rarely tested because he doesn't make himself vulnerable, rarely goes beyond the pages. He never left Boston, he never found love. Until he does, then the movie gets Good, if you know what I mean.
It could be that that's the allure for personal development and learning outside our education all the same. All we can do really is provide each other with what we know. Free your mind and find your success. You've been a success before and you can do it again because of it. If we can learn to be motivated, we can be motivated to learn. All there is left to do is to get out there.
Until next time...
I explode into space.