I never used to be a straight A student back in high school. At first, it may have been because of the excitement and adjustment to the new atmosphere of school life. Getting caught up in an extroverted social life and various high school pressures seemed to drag me away from my academics even more. Towards the end of high school, I really started to question academics in general.
What was the purpose of school? Why did society make it seem like my entire life was dependent on a scantron test? When am I ever going to use pre-calculus in my daily life?
I strongly do believe that the type of teacher you have can determine your classroom experience, but ultimately, it is your mindset about learning that can decide what you do with the knowledge you gain. Because, when it comes down to it, no matter what type of family/background you come from, you have the choice of whether or not you want to go to class and/or if you want to follow society’s expectations. You have the choice to decide if you are living for others, or if you are living for yourself. And, no matter what you are doing, you have the choice to decide if you are happy (and what makes you happy).
The amazing thing about the cycle of life is that with every experience and with every day we live, we are increasing our consciousness and maturing continuously. Two years ago, upon graduating high school, I really didn’t know much about the world, let alone have a purpose in life. And there’s no doubt that in another two years, I’ll look back on my life now and think something similar. But, like I said, that’s the beauty of life. If we allow ourselves, we can constantly grow, evolve, and transform for the better.
So, going back to two years ago, I had no clue about what I wanted to do. I didn’t get into the universities I was hoping to, and wasn’t feeling motivated to begin at a community college. I was a combination of confused, lost, and careless. Without any motivation, nothing seemed to matter. I didn’t question everything with the purpose to learn, but instead, questioned everything to see if it was worth it. But, nothing seemed worthwhile to me.
I decided I need a change of atmosphere and inspiration. With the loving support of my parents, I went on my first solo travel trip the during the fall after high school. I visited Singapore, but spent the majority of my time traveling throughout India. Prior to this trip, I had never spent more than 3 weeks at a time in India, and had definitely never travelled to another country by myself. Spending a few months in a third world country (the 2nd most populated country in the world, suffering high poverty), resulted in me experiencing some serious culture shock and an awakening, and of course gave me a chance to get in touch with my roots. I felt as if I came back to the US as a blank canvas, ready to be freshly painted on.
I started at Irvine Valley College about a month after I came back where I experienced another “fish out of water” moment. I hadn’t been in a school environment for almost 9 months which felt so weird but so refreshing at the same time. I’m not sure if I just felt more privileged and appreciative to be able to actually attend school, or if my mind, body, and soul just needed a cleanse from the prolonged four years in high school — but I found myself actually paying attention in my classes. I was no longer just hearing what the teacher was saying, but I was actually listening. It was the summer of 2015 during summer school when I felt my mindset about learning was really starting to evolve and change. I was taking an intensive honors writing class and a public speaking class, both which were demanding in time, but that I found enjoyable. My writing teacher was very intrigued with cognitive science, so the books we read and essays we wrote were all based on the brain and mindsets. In my public speaking class, we were given several research topics, which we had to give a speech about daily.
Again, I felt confused because I had never “enjoyed” school before. I do think my professors and the topics I was learning about played a huge role in my enjoyment and interest in my classes, however I did feel that my mindset about learning was what ultimately allowed me to perceive being in class and taking in all the new subjects as a positive. Fast forward one year and here I am just having completed another intense summer school session and working a full-time internship. And, surprisingly enough I’ve been getting straight A’s, while taking up a multitude of positions doing what I love, and have a healthy social life — a lifestyle I never thought I could live 2 years ago. What’s funny is that although I’m been progressively taking more challenging classes,the reason I am doing so well in them is not because I’m studying more. Instead, I believe I’m excelling in the different aspects of my lifestyle because I now have focus and purpose.
Google defines “purpose” as “the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists.” I believe this same definition can be applied when talking about the purpose of life, and even the purpose of learning. When I talk about “learning purposefully”, I’m not referring to the reason you’re in school, which for many people means going to college, to get good job, to ultimately be successful. Instead, when I use the term “learning purposefully”, I am referring to the exact moment you are actually listening to something, translating it into knowledge, and really learning it. Why are you allowing yourself to take in that information? What are you going to do with that information now that it is in your mind?
Time is so limited and precious and although I have only existed on this planet for 20 years, I’ve made the conclusion that I do not want to waste a single moment, nor spend time doing ANYTHING without a purpose. So… how exactly can we learn purposefully?
My answer is simple, yet complex: Real-World Application.
Relate and apply anything and everything you learn to the real-world and your own experiences; No matter if it’s a line of code in your program, or a lecture on the history of ancient civilizations. Even if what you are learning may not seem relevant at all, force yourself to relate and apply to the real-world. In time, you will no longer need to force yourself to do this and it will come naturally, which is what happened to me. When I began to realize how relative and connected everything we learn is, I really did feel like I had been viewing and listening to everything all wrong prior to this awakening.
Once I started making connections with everything I was learning, not only did I appreciate what I was being taught, but I felt my mind opening — open for change, open for growth, and open to take in more knowledge and experience. I found myself becoming more excited about what I was learning in class, taking in what I learned, researching it, and talking about what I was learning with my friends and family (quite enthusiastically). More importantly, I started to question what I was learning, and either researched its relevance more, or researched the contradictions to prove why it was wrong (forming my own understanding and opinion of the topic). I now have focus and purpose while learning.
No matter what I am learning, by applying and relating it to the real world, I am expanding my ability to be more conscious and aware. I know that every little thing I am learning will help me bridge the connections between everything in life. Anything I now learn allows me to be more appreciative and grateful for everything in life. And, just to clarify, I’m not only talking about learning in an academic atmosphere, although, I have referenced several examples from learning in class because I used to have a negative mindset about learning in school. Practicing real-world application, has in a way trained me to view every situation (whether positive or negative) as a beneficial learning experience.
What is most amazing about the human mind is that if we practice something enough, it eventually becomes normal for us to do, and can even permanently change our mindsets. I think this is exactly what happened to me and I couldn’t be more grateful for this transformation. If you’re still reading this, I urge you to to start practicing real-world application while learning. Observe how your life, and the way you view life alters into something beautiful.
Cover photo from boingboing.net