I was driving home after work today and was listing to my Pandora “Loud Girls” selections on my phone (which I have to use because of a screw up by car repair people, see previous post). A old song by Alanis Morissette came on and it made me think.
Life is about learning. Yeah, I know, there’s nothing original in that statement. But regardless of originality, it still holds true. Everything in life teaches you something. It doesn’t matter your belief system, your support system, or your karma. That’s where the song came in.
You live you learn, you love you learn
You cry you learn, you lose you learn
You bleed you learn, you scream you learn
~ Alanis Morissette “You Learn”
(Wow, it doesn’t read well if you don’t know the tune.)
Today is one of those days that I miss school. All the back to school ads are in full swing. There are uhauls in driveways prepping to take kids back to college. District letters are starting to trickle into the mailbox. (Forget the catalogs and sales fliers, they’ve been coming in since April.) I don’t miss the cafeterias, the standing in line, the masses of students rushing through the halls, or even most of the teachers. What I miss was the timing. School was always compartmentalized. You knew when it started, you got a syllabus to tell you what you were going to learn. You had a list of books and tests to make sure you learned what you were supposed to learn. And then it was over, you were done learning from that class.
Life doesn’t have semesters. It doesn’t tell what you’re supposed to learn, and more importantly, when you’re done learning that lesson. College didn’t teach us about that either. I had one professor try. He told us to what we had to do for his class, because the administration told him he had to. He told us what he expected of us for grading, because the school required it. Then he told us to do what we had to for all our claases, but never forget that we were paying to learn, so we should learn. Sit in on more classes. Read more books. Shadow other students. Go to TA sessions. Join study groups. Learn. Get our money’s worth. Learn everything we can while we’re there, and if we have questions, ask because, as he pointed out when no one else would, we were paying money to get answers, to be taught. If we weren’t being taught, we need to speak up.
I was first introduced to that professor in my first year of university. (I went to school in Canada. They didn’t refer to the years as freshman, sophmore, etc, they were first year, second year, etc.) He was an art history professor, an area I hadn’t intended to take more of, but because he was the prof, I signed up for others, as well. As a liberal arts student my focus was on learning, and learning to learn, and absorbing, and thinking abstractly, and seeing different perspectives, and … and not focusing on finding a real major that would enable me to be highly paid quickly in life. I did very well in liberal arts. On good days liberal arts enables me to be well-rounded and able to see the perspectives and interests of others. On more days than I’d like to admit, liberal arts makes me dizzy since there is no right or wrong, no 1 or 0, no black or white.
But he was the first during my quasi-adult life at the time that studying and learning are very different. He told me that instead of being taught information, I needed to learn it, to process it; we needed to take responsibility for our learning. He said there were many things taught in classes. Sure, there’d be a test, but as long as we learned what we wanted, what we needed, that should be the accomplishment. It was one of the first times I had heard it phrased that way from someone outside my family. (I come from a family of teachers who always instilled in me that there is a difference between being taught and being told; between remembering and learning, that knowledge and how to use it is what matters.)
In life there are no quizzes, but there are always tests.
Thinking about this reminds me of something someone once said, that the hardest part of painting is knowing when it’s done. That’s where editors come in, to tell them when the novel is finished. That’s what makes me miss school. Sometimes I want someone to tell me what lesson I’m supposed to be learning, and to let me know if I’m on track or finished.
Every situation teaches you something. Well, 6 things, to be exact.
“You laugh you learn, you choose you learn”
I have decided on 6 because I like 5, but am drawn to balance. I have explained it to myself by saying that in my world, as I mentioned previously, there’s no true right, no true wrong; no true good, no true bad. Everything has facets to it, and from different perspectives can be viewed as nearly the opposite of what we originally thought. That’s how my head works. I can explain many things.
Rationalizations are more important than sex. Ever gone a week without a rationalization?
~ paraphrased from the Big Chill
So 6 is the magic number for me. The degree of lessons vary, of course. College teaches us many things, but if you think about it, you’ll find that there are 6 key things you learned overall. (Each person may have a different number, or prefer a different number. I strongly recommend it be more than 1, and far fewer than 1,000, but the number is yours to choose.) Similarly, you’ll find if you look at your individual classes, there were 6 things you learned in each, and probably still remember if you can think back that far, or even remember taking the class.
And to be clear, I’m not referring to facts or formulas, I referring to lessons. Sure, you may actually remember 6 facts, like when the Sistine Chapel was finished, or what molecular make up of lettuce is, but overall, you learned something that made you a better person, 6 things. And that awful job you had early on also taught you 6 things about yourself that you either didn’t know before, or hadn’t been convinced enough to realize yet. I had one job that was in a very volatile situation. It was physically painful to go to work most days, made worse by a long, often trecherous commute. Each day was met with resistance, frustrations, and often yelling.
But in my time there I learned a lot. Each day I learned 6 things. Each week I learned 6 things. Each year I learned six things.
Some of these things included:
- The British refer to dog kennels as dog houses, which would explain why the key word groupings our British SEM agency were using weren’t converting properly.
- British SEM agencies do not like being informed that when they are working for a US-based company that does NOT do business in Britian they must conform to their client’s jargon.
- I do not have ADD, as I do have impulse control.
- Not everyone knows that unicorns aren’t real (another SEM company trying to use “winter unicorn blankets” as a search term saying it might, it just might convert one day. Also reinfornced my not having ADD lesson!)
“You pray you learn, you ask you learn”
There were good lessons, too. I learned deeper customer behavior tracking and persona development, in-depth understanding of merchandising and working to balance input from marketing with purchasing. I learned a great deal about ecommerce, and despite all my previous experience I consider my time there as what finally made me call myself a marketer. I learned confidence there.
Every situation teaches us good things and bad, and our responsiblity is to figure out where that line lies. And when we’re in danger of crossing over. We have to know for ourselves when we have learned what we could, what we needed to, from a situation. Just like in college when a teacher has a nervous breakdown halfway through the semester, the lesson may not be complete, but we are still responsible for the material on the test.
“You grieve you learn, you choke you learn”
The danger in not having someone tell us when we’ve finished our lesson is that we sometimes stay too long, and start to learn the bad, along with the good. At the same time, make sure you get your lessons out of each moment, day, stop along the way. Ask yourself if you could you learn more? Yes? Is it beneficial or too dangerous to stay? Sometimes. Will there be a test? Most definitely. Will there be regrets? There should not be … because each one of these things are our own lessons, and you learn and live what you get out of it.
“Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.”
Over the weekend I read the book “A Stolen Life“, by Jaycee Duggard. To the world she was an 11 year old girl who was kidnapped. When she was found, she was an adult mother. Her story, on those pages, was the life of an 11 year old girl, for 18 years. She says she was not a victim, but that’s likely because somehow the word victim has taken on weak, negative connotations. She most definitely is a victim, in all the unfair things that happened to her, while so many others failed. She did nothing wrong. In fact, instead, she did everything right. She did everything she needed to survive. She learned every day, from everything she experienced, and everything she was exposed to. She had no teachers, yet educated her daughters. She had no doctors, but remained healthy. She had no role models, but learned hope, love and life lessons.
She was rescued, to the world, as an 11 year old little girl in the body of an adult 29 year old mother. The most incredible part for me was the actual entries she included from her diary during that time. The words of an innocent, locked away from the world she should have known, her normal being the evil role models who controlled her life, were so inquisitive. The words of the little girl locked away in a hidden back yard were full of learning; looking for lessons in everything. Her words reminded me that it’s true, there are times we should also let go of things we were taught, while still holding on to what we learned.
“You live you learn”