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Learning is Like Showering: Don’t Stop Doing It

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“Of course motivation is not permanent. But then, neither is bathing; but it is something you should do on a regular basis.” -Zig Ziglar

Imagine asking a colleague if they’d like to join you for lunch and having them respond with “No thanks. I had lunch last month.”

That would be confusing, right?

Imagine someone telling you they don’t take showers anymore because they did a project 5 years ago where they took showers every single day.

That would seem odd, right?

In both cases, an important insight seems to be missing: some things are valuable not because of the amount of times we’ve done them in the past, but because of the way our lives are transformed by our refusal to stop doing them in the present. The value of eating and showering is a matter of hygiene, not history.

The same should be considered true of feeding your mind with a steady diet of ideas.

In Why Reading about Big Ideas Is Necessary for Success, I wrote:

All problems are knowledge problems and all solutions are knowledge solutions. This is why a steady diet of philosophical thinking and philosophical reading is so important. If you’re not regularly consuming content that exposes you to challenging concepts, you risk becoming a virtual solipsist: someone who believes in the existence of other minds, but who lives as if his or her own mind is the sole source of creative solutions. If you want to be a successful professional, refuse to settle at your current level of intellectual development. Study your butt off and never stop challenging yourself to become a better thinker. If you’re content with the books you’ve already read, your career is already dead.

Learning isn’t just an accomplishment, it’s a practice.

Pursue knowledge in the same way you brush your teeth or change your clothes. Instead of taking pride in how much you’ve done it in the past, try to remember how much you’re going to stink if you don’t keep doing it regularly.

Personal growth is an infinite game and the only way to “win” is to playfully keep the process alive.

This Is Not a Subtweet

“You’re worried about the wrong things.” -Kanye West, Paranoid

This is not a subtweet.

This is your conscience.

You are feeling unsettled by what you read here for reasons that only you can understand.

Maybe the author was thinking of you in particular when she wrote it. Maybe she wasn’t thinking about you at all. It doesn’t matter either way.

If you’re living as you know you need to live, the subtweets don’t matter. And if you’re not, then you’ve got bigger problems than a tweet.

Stop worrying if this or that tweet is about you and just go do what you know you need to do.

Sincerely,

The social media posts and status updates that are keeping you awake at night.

Question Everything, Not Just the Alternatives

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If you want to go to college and still be accepted by your family/friends, you don’t need a good reason for attending. The world will gladly accept your decision and praise you for it without the slightest bit of scrutiny.

If you want to pursue an alternative, however, get ready for the most intense interrogation of your life because people will finally begin to care about all sorts of questions they’d never dare pose to a college student or college administrator.

I work with lots of college opt outs and I love when their family and friends ask me questions about every imaginable scenario for a life without a college degree. It’s the most fun part of my job because I can never predict what the questions will be. I always learn something new about what people really want, what they’re afraid of, and where their concerns come from. It’s an enriching and enlightening experience every time.

But then I cry when the conversations are over because I know that those same questions will not be asked about thousands of people who choose college without having any ability whatsoever to rationally defend their decision against the kinds of counter-arguments that opt-outs have to deal with. And to be quite honest, I like that opt-outs get challenged from every possible angle by parents, professors, and peers. They don’t need to be sheltered from the tough realities that come with making unconventional decisions. It’s good for them.

But when it’s all said and done, education isn’t going to change because of the arguments people make for alternatives. It will change when people start asking the same questions about the status quo that they instinctively ask when confronted with the stuff they don’t know.

Keep challenging the opt-outs. Keep challenging the people who don’t believe that college is right for them. Keep challenging those who believe the times are changing and that education is bigger (and sometimes better) than traditional schooling. Don’t ask less questions, ask more questions. And when you’re ready to get really philosophical, turn those questions around and pose them to yourself, your friends, and all the people in your life who who don’t make you uncomfortable with their career choices. Because that’s when the revolution will truly get started.

There Are No Safe Books

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My favorite catchphrase from the TV show X-Files is “Trust No One.”

This idea is far less cynical and antagonistic than many suppose. It doesn’t mean “treat everyone like a con artist who’s out to get you.” It simply means “refuse to accept anything as true or good merely because of the person who initially informed you about.”

It’s an admonition to weigh everything you’re told against your own judgment. If something feels wrong, looks shady, or sounds illogical, then you need to think critically about it. Common sense, right? Yes, but it goes further than that. Critical thinking isn’t just for the stuff that seems shady. It’s also for the stuff that doesn’t have any obvious red flags. In fact, it’s the non-obviousness of red flags that makes critical thinking necessary in the first place.

One of my favorite things on the Internet is when someone mentions a book they’re reading and someone else issues a warning like “Hey, be careful when reading this particular author because his views on X are debatable.”

It makes me wonder: Do these people believe there are books out there that you *don’t* have to think carefully about when reading?
My favorite variation of this is “Hey, what should I do when I’m reading a book that has some good stuff in it, but I have issues with some of the other stuff?”

Wait…since when was this a special problem posed by a single category of books? Shouldn’t we have a few issues with every single piece of content we ever consume? Does the reading experience sometimes *not* involve learning how to separate the wheat from the chaff?

Kafka said it best: “If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.”

The problem is not that we put on our thinking caps when dealing with new, strange, or unorthodox sources of information. The problem is that we’d ever think to take off our thinking caps at all.

Every source of information is dangerous if you don’t think critically and creatively about how you apply it in your life. Books are like fire: powerful, useful, nourishing, illuminating and utterly capable of destroying you if you turn your brain off and dive in.

From the New York Times bestsellers and the peer-reviewed academic titles to the self-published and the shoulda-never-been published, be careful with all the books. Nothing is safe….especially if it’s good for you.

Trust no one. Think for yourself instead.

How to Know What Really Matters to You

I don’t want to know what you would do if money were no object. I want to know what you will do when money actually is an object. I don’t want to know how you react when things are free. I want to know how you react when things are expensive.

I don’t want to hear about what fires you up. I want to see what sustains you when you’re the one who gets tossed into the fire. I don’t want to know what you stand for. I want to know what makes you stay in the ring when life knocks the wind out of you.

I don’t want to know about your passions. I want to know about your priorities.

Passion is about what turns you on, what fires you up, and what makes you come alive. Priority is about what you do when life forces you to choose between convenience and conviction.

It’s a useful exercise to contemplate what you would do if your actions didn’t cost you anything, but that will only get you to the starting line. If you want to make it to the finish line, don’t just find something fun to do. Find something that’s worth doing even when it’s not fun or free. Don’t just think about what you would say “yes” to if you knew you could have it all. Think about what you would fight for if you knew it would cost you everything.

The latter will tell you much more about what really matters to you.

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