Recently, a friend messaged me on Facebook, asking a question about pursuing his dream. It went something like this:
Friend: What would you consider more noble, right, and helpful for the future: working toward a passion and balancing work or sacrificing a lot of time for an excellent opportunity that will help you in the future (but it may interfere with your passion and work/life balance)? And briefly why?
Me: what do you define as an “excellent opportunity” and what do you define as “helping you”?
Friend: “Helping you” as in stable job and income flow, and “Excellent opportunity” as a competitive internship.
Me: haha as I thought. I mean it’s ultimately your choice.
Friend: I just rejected a competitive internship so I can pursue my research interest in cryptography and systems research, so I am not sure what I did was right.
This is a struggle familiar among all persons of the human race. Everyone struggles at some point with whether they should pursue what they love or pursue what is practical. At the very core, it is a struggle between security and risk.
And the thing is, people are constantly faced with such decisions nearly every day. Almost every decision has an option that appears to be more secure, and an option that appears to be riskier.
To my friend, it seems foolish to reject a competitive internship that is very practical and desired by many, and he is justified in thinking that way. If an internship looks good on your resume, will help you find employment in the future, and perhaps can provide you some money, it almost doesn’t make sense to not accept it. However, the part of being competent and wise person is knowing when to reject good looking opportunities in order to pursue prospects that are more appropriate for them.
My Old Model Airplane Hobby
Yesterday, I rummaged through my closet, pulling out my collection of airplanes that I had built in middle school.
In middle school, I used to build and fly wooden airplanes. It was a hobby that consumed hours of my day, and kept me from having a social life and perfect grades. Building and flying airplanes gave me a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment that appealed to me, and almost completely consumed me. I loved the feeling of completing a plane, winding up the rubber band, and letting it take off into the air, watching it circle around the gym.
However, by the time I reached high school, I stopped building and flying. It wasn’t because I got bored with the craft, nor was it because I wasn’t good at it. I stopped because I realized that there were bigger and better things for me, and that I had to let go of how much time I was spending on it.
It was a conscious and intentional step for me to say no to something that was extremely attractive to me in order to move on in my process. I don’t regret any of the time, money, or energy I spent on building and flying these airplanes, and I would love to have the chance to once again fly them with someone.
Being Competent and Rejecting Opportunities
Not all opportunities that present themselves to you are ones that you should take. Being able to decisively and confidently reject an opportunity shows that a person truly understands what they want, what their goal is, and how they are going to get there.
In order to navigate the decisions that you have to make and opportunities that are made available to you, there are three main elements to consider.
- Definite of Purpose – I need to know who I am.
- Knowledge of What One Wants and How One Wants to Get There – I need to know what I want.
- A Burning Desire to Possess it – I need to declare that I will get it.
The person who doesn’t know who they are, doesn’t know what they want, and doesn’t really want it is the person that will accept any random opportunity that comes their way, hoping that somewhere somehow, it will lead them to a better place.
But without the intentional drive and passion to get what you want, it’s easy to get lost and confused in the midst of all the tempting, shiny opportunities.
“The words you hear are what you start to think about. The words you start to think about in your mind will form your goals, beliefs, and ideas. These will move from your mind to your heart. These become an outward habit. These define your character.” – Anthony Arnold
Knowing who you are and what you want helps you to filter and process the things that you listen to and the things that you think about. And as these thoughts eventually determine your character, they also determine the way you carry yourself and how you relate to and impact the people around you.
That’s why you can’t just take every opportunity or thought that presents itself, you have to learn to filter and process what actually matters.
I started blogging in the winter of 2012, mainly sharing thoughts that were on my mind about things that were relevant to the things in my life. As time went by, a thread of learning and education came up repeatedly in my posts.
Learning and education became a significant theme for me because I began noticing the deep flaws that exist inside the current education system.
As Sir Ken Robinson and many others have begun to pick up on, a very significant problem in the education system is that it is very much a factory model, importing and exporting students on a specific schedule in a specific mold. The factory model of education has not only restricted the creativity of students, but has caused the industry to refer to people as “Harvard grads” like they would an automobile brand.
But as a result of the factory model of education is the lack of emotional support for students. By default, the factory model does not allow space for students to connect to teachers on a real and human level. Occasionally students will meet a teacher that believes in them more than they believe in themselves and completely changes the student’s life, but those are few and far in between.
When a teacher plays a role deeper than simply presenting information, students are able to connect with the teacher and learn on a deeper, more powerful level. When a teacher connects with students, they help students to excel further than they themselves have, and that’s when our industries will really begin to advance.
To connect with a student looks different in different situations, but the main premise is that connecting with students means that students and teachers can see each other as human beings, and can be friends.
In high school, I had a teacher who shared her gchat with the class, and allowed us to chat with her outside of class about almost anything. As the year went on, suddenly I felt a connection to that teacher that I have never before experienced with any other teacher. It helped me to learn in her history class a lot more effectively.
Standardized testing is a very incomplete way of measuring a person’s capabilities, but the reason runs deeper than the fact that standardized testing puts students in boxes. Standardized testing ignores people as individuals, ignoring each person’s story, process, and progress.
The current system teaches students that their story doesn’t matter, who they are is irrelevant, and that the best thing to do is to be quiet and follow directions. But if we are really to raise a generation that will change the world in a positive way, we must teach students to take initiative, to lead, and to be powerful individuals.
When schools begin valuing students for their stories, experiences, and thoughts, we do more than put information in their heads; we put purpose in their lives.
Don Wettrick, the founder of a new type of academic class in Franklin, Indiana, is taking principles of education reform by people like Sir Ken Robinson, Seth Godin, Daniel Pink, and putting it into practice. Wettrick’s Innovations class at Franklin Community High School is one of the many that are working to change education as we know it.
Wettrick, being an english teacher for fifteen years, knew that he had to find a better way to engage students and allow them to express their creativity. Inspired largely by Daniel Pink and Google’s work time model (where employees allocate 20% of their time to fun projects), Innovations is a student run, student taught, and student managed class. In the Innovations class, students have access to a television production studio, complete with computers and cameras and screens necessary to do practically any type of video work. Innovations is still in it’s early stages as a pilot program running for the first year, but there has already been significant results that have proven the power of such a class.
I had the chance of skyping with Mr. Wettrick and learn a little bit more about his Innovations class. While making the skype call, I was astonished by the quality of the equipment I saw in the classroom. The classroom does not resemble a typical classroom by any stretch, but more like a video producer’s playground.
With the equipment, the students not only have been working on their own personal or group creative projects, they have also used the equipment to reach out to and connect with industry leaders such as Microsoft’s Vice President and other international leaders.
To the class, social media is an integral part of what they do, and the students are realizing how powerful social media is to changing the world, and how they can put themselves out their by learning how to create their own personal branding. Being based largely on social media, the class aims to make teaching more transparent, because when teachers are transparent and collaborate, they are able to educate their students in a more effective manner.
According to Wettrick, “students don’t need to go to school to learn anymore. School should be a place where students can learn together.” Acknowledging the fact that learning from the Internet while collaborating with other students is much more powerful than listening to a teacher talk, the class allows for students to learn with their own preferences.
The truth is, many of the lectures and notes on the internet today are of much higher quality than anything a single teacher can produce on their own. Wettrick recognizes this especially in the field of video production, and instead of competing with online resources, he utilizes the resources on the internet to help his students to the highest quality content possible.
Since the beginning of Innovations, the class has made many accomplishments, one of the most significant being the selection to receive a pair of Google glass from Google’s testing program. Wettrick shared about how inspired he was by the way that the students pooled together the last minute to submit their application. Google glass will provide the students in the class to take part in the technology that companies around the world are developing.
Perhaps the most inspiring element of this class is how the students are able to take control of their own learning. Wettrick doesn’t need to assign projects and grade homework, because he is not interested in asking students questions with answers he already knows.
“The role of the teacher is to be a facilitator and motivator. It’s not about asking the right questions for students to answer, but inspiring students to ask the right questions.”
Education should be about pushing students to explore deeper than what is currently understood. Instead of observing areas of study from a distance or behind a textbook, students should be on the front lines, being the ones that explore and expand human understanding further.
Every school should provide the option for students to self-direct their learning, instead of forcing students into a systematic, factory model of education. To some, the Innovations class is seen as fluff, where students don’t really achieve that can be measured by a standard, but the effect of allowing students to explore on their own has had extremely positive results for the Innovations class.
If you are interested in helping out the Innovations class, they are currently raising money to extend the potential of the class. To them, having a budget leads students to come up with creative solutions to the challenges that they face.
The class currently has plans to publish a book, and if you are interested in connecting or helping the education revolution, check them out!
It’s been about a week since I attended TEDx San Diego, and I’m still thinking about the inspiration and ideas that were shared at the conference.
TEDx San Diego
In case you aren’t familiar with TED talks that are slowly popping up everywhere, feel free to check them out. You won’t be disappointed. I promise.
I stumbled across TEDx San Diego while browsing the internet one day, and decided that I would like to go to one of these conferences at some point in my life. Coming across the TEDx San Diego page, I promptly noticed that I would be in San Diego at that time, and filled out an application. (Yes, you must apply in order to attend a TEDx Conference)
I applied, thinking that I probably wouldn’t get in seeing as I had applied late, and probably wasn’t the hyper-entrepreneur that other people probably were. But when I received the acceptance letter, I quickly paid my $100 for a ticket.
TEDx was incredible. To say the least. The way that the speakers engaged with the audience on levels ranging from emotional to intellectual was nothing short of mindblowing.
I learned about and connected with people who had inspirational life stories, people who were making a difference socially in the world, people who were researching new technologies such as thought controlled computing, and people who were musical prodigies. There were people who were teaching entrepreneurship in prisons, people who were educating homeless children, authors who wrote countless bestseller books, researchers learning about indigenous African tribes, engineers who are creating contact lenses with a computer chip on them, and so many more.
It felt amazing sitting in an auditorium surrounded by people who were so captivated and willing to learn and understand what each speaker was talking about. Each session lasted approximately an hour and a half, but the day felt like it went by in a breath.
It was a seven hour conference packed with 33 talks, all of which struck different intellectual and emotional chords.