I’ve always been a very inquisitive thinker. Like most kids, at a very young age I asked the question “Why?” incessantly.
The sky is blue.
Look both ways before crossing the street.
You have to put on sunscreen first.
Don’t put that in your mouth.
It’s time to go to bed.
I continued to ask these questions well past the age where it’s every kid’s annoying auto response. And I asked about things that most kids take for granted. I could always memorize stuff with the best of them. But whenever there was a process leading to an answer, I’ve always felt compelled to understand the process as well.
In Math that meant learning proofs when brute formula memorization would have sufficed, as well as dissecting problems to see why and how they work rather than just plug and chug. For English class it meant recognizing root words so I understood how words were constructed and could infer what words meant before opening a dictionary. Part of the reason I used to be such. A. Slow. Reader. Was that I had to look up every word I didn’t know or I couldn’t move on. I felt incomplete if I didn’t. At home, I frequently spent more time on homework than was required. Even when a gold star or good grade was in the bag, I was internally motivated to understand how things worked and why they were the way they were—even if that meant less time shooting hoops or watching The Simpsons.
It wasn’t strictly school topics that drew my attention this way either. Beating Bowser and learning to throw a curveball required the same focus and study.
While this mindset was of course valuable in school, it’s served me well outside of the classroom too. Most recently I’ve used it to solve real problems in my life, to question things I previously took for granted and ultimately grow as a person.
When I graduated from Hamline University in 2013 my plan was to eventually attend graduate school and pursue an academic career. I’d gotten really jazzed about my studies in economics during my senior year. I’d also done well academically during my four years. Grad school seemed like a safe and natural next step. I thought that because I was passionate about economics, wanted to learn more about it, and because I had good grades, the logical decision—really the only decision—was graduate school.
Preparing for grad school, I read voraciously and learned about whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. I was more keen than ever on continuing my education, and ironically that became the reason I decided grad school wasn’t for me.
Outside the confines of the classroom, I discovered my interests were all over the map. I loved being able to dive into a new book or topic as I was inspired. College allowed some flexibility but was always more bureaucratic and slow. If I wanted to learn about something new I always had to wait another semester, wait until summer, or add it to my already juggled workload. None of those options were satisfying.
Part of the problem was I’d always conflated learning and education with school. I thought if I didn’t go to graduate school I couldn’t learn more about economics. I’d need a professor for that. How else would I know what books to read? Who would give me an exam on all this stuff? What proof would I have of the time I put in and the knowledge I gained?
My experience learning on my own terms after undergrad put all those concerns to rest. I enjoyed it immensely. I trusted my curiosity and instincts to ask good questions and find good sources. I no longer felt a need to prove anything through exams. I’d rather be my own signal than have another degree.
I’ve learned and changed a lot since graduating college. I’m motivated to continue learning with an eye toward real growth, instead of a GPA. I’m excited for the opportunity of further growth as a participant in Praxis. The program is perfect for my self-directed learning style. I can’t wait to see where it takes me.