You can find your passions too.

[Written in August 2012, application for Michigan Daily opinion column] (Declined)

The Greek word “schole” translates to “time held for yourself”. Taking time for yourself, where you would, in theory, learn important life insights. Not grade grubbing; not job skills — but who you are and who you want to become.

Today, we have so many requirements that we can’t take any time for learning for ourselves. We don’t ask the big questions; we’re often not learning to have fun. Numerous requirements and the importance placed on grading support a rigid and restrictive learning environment. This does not cultivate learning to your maximum potential, nor incentivize intellectual exploration.

It is understandable that school is not fun for many, given that grades create an environment of winners and losers. They are part of a structured game, which some students enjoy playing, and others do not. This game detracts from organic, free flowing scholarly inquiry and response. It causes many students to focus on the grade they receive, rather than maximizing the amount of knowledge they internalize and apply. For example, it is difficult to challenge the ideas on an exam when such questioning is fundamentally at odds with providing the “right” answer on that exam. While partaking in this game is sufficient for some, it leaves many students feeling insignificant, unmotivated, and unfulfilled.

Many of these students, who often view school as not fun, have trouble identifying what they want to major in or what they truly want to do after they graduate. They are unsure of their passions.

Identifying a passion comes through asking questions and exploring for answers. It comes through seeking out ideas that stimulate your mind, and make you want to learn more. It comes from a belief that learning is, above all, fun.

Think, for a moment, that you discovered something that you were incredibly passionate about. Something that you stood very firmly behind learning and acting upon. Meaningful and rewarding work which you wanted to pursue for a vast majority of a day. Think about the liberation and excitement that would bring.

Peers often asked me what my passions were. I always found it very difficult to answer this question, and would settle for a typical business student’s answer of finance or accounting. Deep down, however, I knew that I was not truly passionate about these fields; I was saying them out of a default.

Once I began to learn more extensively outside of the classroom, I began to see a wider view of subjects which I was truly interested in. I noticed many problems that needed addressing, active communities pursuing these issues, and even related career opportunities.

For example, I was assigned reading in class from an incredible book called The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge. It focuses on transforming businesses to make them more sustainable and socially responsible, ideals which appealed to me. I continued to read the book for pleasure after completing the required chapters. The book referenced organizations pursuing these ideals. I then began engaging with this community of innovators. This experience has been rewarding, and has even opened my eyes to the field of sustainability consulting.

No class or exam required me to undertake this intellectual endeavor. It was homework I had to assign to myself. It took courage, perseverance, and many hours of reading, discussing, thinking, teaching and inquiring to realize that I am truly passionate about many ideas. Thankfully, the rewards from facing this challenge proved more meaningful than any grade I have received.

Luckily, there are an increasing amount of places for you to inspire yourself intellectually, and find your passions. These transformative and disruptive resources are providing freedom for you to learn nearly anything you desire, while collaborating with thousands of students from a large diversity of backgrounds, (usually) for free. First, the University provides vast libraries and databases full of knowledge. Additionally, UnCollege is a vibrant community of students personalizing their education and pursuing alternative routes to success.

MIT Open Courseware and Coursera are two of many websites that provide informative lectures from a wide range of universities. Khan Academy has thousands of instructional videos on a wide variety of subjects. These and many other spaces contain treasures waiting to be unlocked.

Learning can be intrinsically fun. You can find your passions too. All it takes is asking the right questions and looking in the right places.