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Consciously Deciding to Learn

Dropping Out of College

I dropped out of college about two and a half years ago, but that has not been an excuse to stop learning. In fact, I’ve put more effort into learning on my own than I ever did while I was in the system. School was very much about external validation, I lived for taking top marks with as little effort as possible. It wasn’t really about learning, it was about jumping through hoops to prove myself to the world.

Many factors contributed to my decision to stop pursuing a degree, but the biggest was that school got in the way of life. I had two options: continue to coast through courses with as little effort as possible or get out of the game and start living life. I chose life.

I had just come back to the country from living in China. I only had one year of school remaining, but even that was too much. The “back to school” motivation wore off pretty quickly and at just about the same time I landed a web developer gig at Flat World Knowledge. There I was, gainfully employed but still attending a $50k+/year institution. It didn’t make any sense.

School became unnecessary, so I left. I packed up my things and moved in with a friend near my new job and eventually made my way to New York City. At the time, it was a difficult decision. I was the first in my family to ever make it to college, and I was set to be the first to graduate. Looking back, leaving school was definitely the right decision for me. I left because it was getting in the way of doing important things and I couldn’t hold back any longer.

It’s Not the Only Way

All that to say, school isn’t necessary for learning. It can be great, especially when you don’t know exactly what you want. Many interesting, helpful, and incredibly intelligent people are part of the system. Without a doubt, joining them is a good way learn but it’s not the only way.

I spend a good portion of every day learning. I try to understand how things work. I secretly perform psychology experiments on my friends. I read as much as I can. I practice multiple languages. I dabble in the arts even though I’ve always been right-brained.

With my recent move to Warsaw, I got to do some personal housekeeping. I got rid of lots of stuff that I don’t need, I removed myself from the daily grind of the city, and I cleared my entire schedule. Slowly, I’m adding things back in and I’ve been very conscious of what is deserving of my time. Learning is definitely priority one for me these days.

Things I’m Consciously Learning

The hardest part of self directed learning has been deciding what I want to learn and what activities to spend my time on regularly. These are the topics I’m focused on and what I’m doing to learn them.

  • Reading - Pretty standard, lots of books on my Kindle. I prefer to read entire books in a single sitting. Not a very directed activity.
  • Coding - Building small projects in a short period of time. Going from idea to shipped in two days.
  • Design - This goes hand in hand with coding, I want my projects to look good when I ship them.
  • Spanish - Whenever possible I do language exchanges through Meetup and CouchSurfing to keep my Spanish skills sharp.
  • Polish - Living in Warsaw I practice all the time. I spend a few hours a week studying new vocabulary and grammar using Rosetta Stone and I’m enrolled in a course at the University of Warsaw. The course isn’t for a certificate, just for some people to practice with.
  • Poetry - This is out of my comfort zone, which I think is important. I joined ”Hack this Poem: a Workshop” at P2PU. “Take poems you like. Decompose them to find of why. Write your own.” I’m also getting insight into how people use the site.
  • Music - I’ve got a Monome and some crazy software and I’m experimenting with to make my own music. My goal is to perform something live for friends eventually. I don’t practice often, but when I do I binge for many hours.
  • Business - AVC / MBA Mondays - I read AVC daily, and try to get involved with the community there when appropriate. I’m using DailyLit to get back issues of all the posts delivered to my inbox three days per week.

Teaching is Learning

In addition to all that, I’ve taken on three “students” of my own. I’m giving free English classes to two Koreans in Warsaw and I’m teaching a Polish guy about web programming. Helping other people learn is really enjoyable, they’re really happy to get help and being responsible forces me to understand things fully before trying to explain them.

What are you learning?

Learn anything with your peers at P2PU.