Let's Stop Learning Enough to Start Thinking More - #79

Stop. Take a breath. 

We should never move so fast we forget to do the thing that makes us human: question. Even with the break-neck pace of the world, it's normal for us all to try to keep our head above-water in our own way. We may not know the headlines of the minute, but it'll fall into our inbox just a few seconds later. Mix that constant tornado of information with the natural urge for action and we might already be in the Matrix. 

The idea remains to question. Why? What are we doing? What makes you feel alive, what floors you?

Click for the speech.

Steve Jobs hit the nail on the head for me when he said in the now-famous 2005 Stanford Commencement speech, "You can't connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future." We need to navigate our way through life at the present moment with what drives us further. You can't always know the destination, you can only sail toward it. 

Stop, take some time to think. Figure out what's important to you.

Jacob Barnett: Boy Genius

I had to take a look back for myself after listening to an 11-year-old mathematician squeak and giggle his way through a TEDxTeen talk entitled Forget What You Know. Jacob Barnett pulled from the lives of Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton to show that sometimes we need to stop learning and start thinking to become why the world will know us. Einstein was rejected from the local university because he was Jewish, Newton was shut out of Cambridge because of The Plague. Barnett is no different, he was held back from college at the ripe age of ten for a freak accident involving dropping some coins during his entrance interview. No worry, Barnett took to his work and spent his time home battling mathematical proofs our eyes most likely never saw in undergraduate work. He had Princeton professors check his work in his childhood home. While we may not have the luxury to say so long to our adult responsibilities, like Barnett did at age 10, it could be worth it to take a few minutes and really let your mind wander. Have you stopped to really question your own thoughts? Have you tested your beliefs? What does it mean to be a friend, to be in love, to be happy?  Why, oh why, are we all here?

When I started to search myself, I realized what my brother meant when he said," You know, Dan, you consume a lot of media." When is it time to process everything we're devouring? We start to become collectors of our collaborators. We question our way out by tuning in. Going back through my writing, there was hints of this message all over. Robin Williams captivated me weeks ago with his speech in Good Will Hunting about the difference between the smart-ass knowledge of youth and the old age wisdom of experience. THNKR interviewed John Hodgman of Daily Show fame about writing and I found him prescribing good experience, too, when he said, "It's not enough to write what you know, you have to know interesting things." Regardless of your political opinion of the man, Ralph Nader is a man we can thank for saving us all for flimsy car construction and life-saving seatbelts, among other things. With the assignment of his father, Nader used to ponder a topic all day long as a youngster and arrive at the dinner table expected to debate with his siblings. Even in the book I'm reading now, Nicholas Carr's The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains, urges for the time to think, to ponder, to step away from the table and tablet.

When all the lessons are pointing at once, it's great to pull back and experience the big picture when you can. We're given so much, it's hard to remember to create, even if it just means our own thoughts. Make your questions your own and make your way.

Until next time...

I explode into space.



Learning We Have More To Learn - #75

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.

read, watched, attended. ready to re-read and attack.

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.