Wednesday, June 10, 2015

How to Educate Yourself

Also known as: how to stop going to school (but keep learning) if post-high school education is not for you.

This idea has been on my mind a lot because I've decided to leave college for the forseeable future. I cringe just a little every time I announce that, because society tends to frown upon those who forgo traditional education. I worry I might be judged, by my friends, family or employers. I worry that I'll be broke forever because my entrepreneurial ideas might not take off and I won't get hired anywhere. But I also can't stop smiling, because I know that I made the right choice for myself, and that's what matters.

Dropping out of school isn't some glamorous way of making a point against education or anything like that. To many people it might seem like I'm making a huge mistake, considering I gave up an enormous scholarship and the opportunity to get a pretty damn useful degree. I had great grades and was pretty involved at my college, but... it wasn't what I wanted. And no matter how good getting an International Business degree might look on paper, it doesn't matter if that's not what you want, and if you aren't learning things you want to be learning or find interesting.

My point is, I don't want to stop learning. I didn't leave because of some extreme addiction to laying in bed watching Netflix and eating chocolate. I left because I want to challenge myself and pursue the things I feel add value to the world. I want to do work that enables me to interact with people and make a difference, and still have the space to discover and create in my personal life. College is not the only way to learn how to become your own person, and I wish society would accept that more than it does. Even a year ago, I could barely have imagined life without college. It was simply the next step I expected to take. But I've realized that just because you are in school doesn't mean you're learning, and just because you're not in school doesn't mean you aren't.

So what do you do if you realize that school just isn't working for you (and I mean this in a very serious, this-is-not-the-right-path-for-me sort of way, not just an I-don't-like-math-class way)?

You learn how to educate yourself. 

And this takes a bit of effort.

I'm a bit of a newbie at doing this consciously (I usually realize I've learned things in hindsight instead of actively trying to educate myself), so I'm still figuring it all out. But I have an idea of what I want to learn, do and experience. I also have an idea of what it's going to take to get there. So, in no particular order, here is my take on how to give yourself an education more suited to your lifestyle if, like me, you feel disenchanted with traditional schooling.

  • First of all, GET A JOB. Doesn't matter what it is. You just need to get some real world life experience under your belt. Whether you're washing dishes at the cheap restaurant down the street or you manage to land a classy internship somewhere downtown, you need to be engaged in an activity that you are fully responsible for. Having- and keeping- a job requires you to learn how to get yourself up and to work on time, communicate with other people, and manage yourself professionally. Right now I'm working at a cruise ship terminal, doing anything from pointing people towards an elevator to checking the validity of their passports and credit cards. Just like when I used to work at a grocery store, having that daily interaction with customers teaches me to understand people better, to learn how to anticipate and accommodate their wants and needs. For anyone who wants to be an entrepreneur (or just anyone, actually), this is an important skill.
  • READ. College costs an unbelievable amount of money, but as long as you turn in your books on time you can get pretty much anything from the library... for FREE. At least here in Seattle. Websites (legit ones!) are also a great resource. You can learn a lot from online newspapers, magazines, or scholarly journals if that's your thing. You can expand your horizons by reading blogs and seeing the world through other people's eyes (though be wary of restating facts without an official source). Not only are these resources informational, but some of them are just inspiring. For me, as a writer, it's important to not only learn a lot about all the things I'm interested in but also to examine and explore different writing styles, I read tons of novels that are simply great books, which are still great learning tools. Below are just some ideas from what I've been reading... If you're more interested in, say, animals, perhaps National Geographic's website or magazine would be better for you, and you should look into volunteering at a zoo. Each person has their own path and that will determine which reading materials will best benefit you.


#GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso
Inspiring read for young women taking a non-traditional path to success.

The Starbucks Experience by Joseph A. Michelli
I found it fascinating to read about the myriad of ways Starbucks educates its employees in customer service.

anything by environmental activist Vandana Shiva
She writes a lot about the problems with the global food supply, and her views are well-informed and though-provoking.

The Green Beauty Guide by Julie Gabriel
If you want to learn about how to go green in terms of beauty products, this is a wonderful read.

 Radical Self Love: A Guide to Loving Yourself and Living Your Dream by Gala Darling
I pre-ordered this and am EAGERLY awaiting it's arrival- anything by Gala is bound to be excellent! Coming June 16.

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
Nothing like Eat, Pray, Love, this book proves Gilbert's versatility as a writer. This novel is a totally unique tale that feels like it could become a classic, it's so well-written. A must-read simply for the quality of the literature.

Chopsticks by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral
My friend Lisel gave this to me and it's a beautifully told story in pictures, IMs, and more. An exploration of visual storytelling.

If You Have to Cry, Go Outside by Kelly Cutrone is a glorious kick in the ass.


The New Yorker
I kind of hate reading newspapers, but I love The New Yorker for articles that are witty and engaging, as well as relevant to current events. Their cartoons are also great.

Mimi Ikonn's Youtube channel
Mimi Ikonn knows how to go after her dreams, and she shares tips about that and styling in her fun, energetic YouTube videos.

Gala Darling's blog
I've probably talked about her blog so many times already so just... go read it. She talks about Radical Self Love and gives advice on everything from what movies to watch on a bad day to the best way to make your business pop with personality.

Nicolette Mason's blog
Nicolette has a great sense of style and color, so I love all her photos of fashion and her travels.

*subscribing to emails from sites that inspire or inform you can also be useful. For example, I love the newsletters sent out from Ash Ambirge at The Middle Finger Project, and the girls at Indie Chicks.

Read things you enjoy, that inspire you, and things that challenge you. Boring books are useless, but find a subject that interests you and choose a difficult book about it. Doing this is a great way to stretch your mind, teach you new things, or open your eyes to some great literature.
  • Gain experience in the fields you're interested in. Try and find jobs that, in some way or another, relate to the career path you want to have. That's an ideal, though- if you can't do that, then learn everything you can from whatever job you have (and there IS something you can learn from every job!), and seek out other kinds of opportunities. Are you interested in chocolate? See what you can learn from books and on the internet, ask if you can tour chocolate factories and send emails to your favourite chocolate producers to see if they'll let you shadow a worker for a day. Do you want to be a sports coach? Volunteer as a counsellor at a youth camp, take classes at a local YMCA or gym. Do whatever you can to get ahead doing the things that you're drawn to.
  • Make plans for your new, still amazing, non-grad life. This means first accepting the reality that yes, some career paths will be harder without a degree, but not all of them. You're going to have to resign yourself to working hard and staying focused, because your path is admittedly no longer going to be as simple as it once seemed. What are your goals? Write a list. Give yourself dates and deadlines and budgets. Nothing is going to get accomplished if you have no plan, so hold yourself accountable for your projects and actions. Tell other people, and enlist their help in pushing you forward. Educating yourself takes some effort, because no one is spoon-feeding anything to you. You have to go out and hunt for your knowledge.
  • So get out there! Go to events, meet people, try new things! Again, life is not going to come to you- you have to reach out and grab it. What are your hobbies, your passions? Make an effort to find goings-on in your area that relate. Most cities have tons of community events or free activities, and these are all great places to meet people and learn more by just being in a different environment. Look for concerts, poetry readings, movie nights, wine tastings, cooking classes, bike rides, group runs.... There's almost always SOMETHING you can do!
  • Learn a language. I've heard being bilingual increases your intelligence in some ways, but it's also just a great mental exercise. It's also a great motivator to find a way to actually go somewhere you can practice that language.
  • Travel if you can. I firmly believe that there are very few things as educational as throwing yourself into an entirely new place, seeing how people live in a different country and embracing the ways in which other cities might differ from your own. If you don't have the funds to travel internationally, explore the places you don't frequent in your own hometown, or grab some friends and go camping nearby. The point is just to find somewhere different than whatever it is you're used to, something that will open your eyes just a little bit wider as to what the world has to offer.
  • Embrace challenges. Do something that's hard for you. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, "Do one thing every day that scares you." Take risks! Maybe one of the things I've already listed is a challenge for you. Maybe you're afraid to travel by yourself or go meet new people. But try it, and you'll see it probably isn't as scary as you think!
  • Practice mindfulness, and meditate if that's something you're interested in. Meditation is still a challenge for me, but I try to work a bit of mindfulness into everything I do. When you're eating, slow down and enjoy your food. At work, be mindful of how you come across to other people and really examine everything good you can find in every moment. This goes hand in hand with staying positive, which is also a huge key to your personal success. If you can believe in yourself and be your own biggest cheerleader, there's nothing you won't be able to achieve.

The hardest thing about choosing to follow your own path in lieu of a more traditional one is that the people who are scared to do the same thing themselves are going to suddenly start popping out of the woodwork and telling you why you're making a huge mistake. To that, you're just going to have to smile, thank them for their advice and continue to do exactly what you want anyway. That's called being a BADASS and doing what YOU want to do, not what anyone else thinks you should be doing.

No one can tell you what to do with your life. I believe in this more than I believe in anything. Whatever expectations other people might have of you, whatever people tell you you're good at, whatever everyone else sees... unless you want it to be, that never has to be you. Figuring out your dreams, your personal reason for being on this earth can take time, but if you're willing to really work hard and root for yourself there is nothing you can't do.

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