Changing Your Perspective on Learning

In my last post I discussed reasons that it makes sense to get into the work force as soon as possible after you get your bachelor’s, even if it means taking much longer to complete your master’s degree. Beyond just the economic reasons, here are a couple of additional benefits.

I remember when I was getting my bachelor’s degree college for me as more about friends and having fun than it was about learning or setting the stage for launching my career. I just didn’t have the same priorities or motivations that I do now. I think this is perfectly normal and most of you can probably relate. The interesting thing about this is that were I to do it all over again, “just getting by” would still be my academic mode of operation. Why? Because I feel like that time in my life was spent having fun and not focusing so much on my career. That’s what I needed at that stage of my life. Had I not had that time, I might find myself always looking back thinking about how I missed out. Instead, as the end of college neared, I found “going out” and constantly thinking about the next social event was getting pretty old and I was ready to move on.

Life has many different seasons. College is a time to discover who you are and figure things out for yourself. I don’t expect anyone to have the same approach to life, much less formal education, at 20 as they would have at 30. Graduating from college and starting work in the real world really changes how you view learning and education. In college I think I was always striving to accrue largely social assets – appearance, friends, dates, involvement in activities,etc. Once I entered the workforce I learned that the most valuable people are those with the greatest knowledge, work ethic, ideas, and character. Suddenly learning became valuable to me. I felt there was nothing in my job that wasn’t worth me trying to figure out and learn from. I viewed my inquisitive and curious nature as an asset that would help drive me to learn things others would lose interest on.

At the same time, the absence of formalized education’s structure allowed me the freedom to let my heart and intuition be my guide. For once I was learning things because I was interested to, not because I was required to. I found myself reading and studying on my free time. My priorities changed and no longer focused on social aspirations, but instead intellectual ones. Learning was – and still is – fun.

I finished my master’s in 2009, about 4 years after finishing college. My approach through the process was to absorb everything I could. I met with instructors and did extra research. At the same time I studied for and passed my CMA, all while working and applying the things I was learning. Now that I realize how different my perspective towards education had become the benefit of working my way through school and taking my time. So many times you get out of education what you put into it. Even though my degree was not expensive, I’m sure it was my approach that made it valuable to me – not the tuition bill.

My desire to learn continues to evolve. Looking back I can see how I’ve changed. Having even changed in the last few years, I can’t help but wonder if I were to go back to school and get my Ph.D. or another master’s degree in a few years if I would approach school differently. I think I would. All the fun I have had reading and researching random areas of interest is giving me a desire for structure again.  I now see formalized education more for the knowledge you gain than the social activities it brings. I now understand that even knowledge that, at the time, may seem boring and irrelevant has a way of being useful later down the road. I now realize that the archaic, traditional approaches to education have their place; truly teaching us depth and history of subject matter rather than a 15-minute conceptual overview.

When I completed my CPA at the beginning of this year, I realized something interesting about the experience. The biggest challenge wasn’t learning the concepts or memorizing rules. It was pushing through a difficult subject and coming out successful. Applying myself and working hard to see progress towards my goal. I think my approach to school would be very similar. I now see diving deep and applying myself completely as a difficult, yet valuable exercise in self-discipline – something  that maybe time and experience have taught me is more valuable than even the knowledge I gained in the process.

So whether you follow the economics and work your way through school, or you go for the 5 year program, consider the fact that your own approach to education is not static. Your perspective changes as you go through life. You gain new and different ways to look at things. For this reason, you may find that school will mean something different to you in 5 years, and that by waiting, you gain a very different education than you would had you simply tacked on another year to your bachelors. Apply yourself because you can pay all the money in the world for a top-notch education,but the fact remains: you get out what you put into it.