As a senior in high school, I am familiar with how school works. The drudgery, busywork, and relative pointlessness of some subjects have dampened my enthusiasm for learning at times. Through taking marketing and entrepreneurship classes, I have discovered that I learn best when I’m doing something — exercising creativity, learning to be productive, and producing results. With this in mind, I wanted to create a “class” for myself this year where I can learn with these methods. The solution was that I would be the TA for my marketing teacher and work in the back room, focusing on projects that I wanted to work on.
My initial goals when starting my class were to become a better writer by writing one article a week, with the end goal to be published on Medium by the end of the first term of school.
The first few days of class had me reading articles on productivity, blogging, and marketing. After about a week, I decided that I should start actually writing. I sat down, fired up my laptop, opened a blank document, and was ready to write. But nothing came.
I found out that without any direction, I couldn’t do much of anything. An ambiguous goal of publishing one article a week didn’t do me any good. So, not knowing what to do, I read a book.
Needing advice on how to write, I reached out to my aunt who is a reporter for the San Diego Tribune. After a short discussion, I settled on recording and analyzing the stories of people in my neighborhood, figuring that it would be interesting for me and good for them to tell their life story.
As you could probably guess, this project didn’t pan out as expected. I interviewed one person, but couldn’t seem to take the audio and my thoughts and put them into coherent analysis or narrative. Once again, things didn’t go as I anticipated.
This idea of having a whole class period to myself seemed like a great proposition at first, and I had an idyllic vision of studiously writing, coding, and building my professional profile, all within the first semester. Reality, as it so often turns out to be, was very different. Here’s what I learned after one month of learning on my own.
Reading is Fun
As with pretty much any goal you set, the first few days were promising. I read Slipstream Time Hacking: How to Cheat Time, Live More, And Enhance Happiness in the first week, and it opened my eyes on what productivity really is and gave me some great motivation and momentum to move forward.
After Slipstream Time Hacking, I picked up The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results. After two weeks of semi-sporadic reading, I finished the book and felt motivated to find a direction to be pointed in.
Although I hadn’t kept my goals of writing, I learned that reading is fun. Not only that, reading is important if you want to learn and grow. It’s a medium in which you can personally connect with the author, the subject matter, and yourself, and it has the potential to lead you to make drastic changes in your life. I believe that this is true for both fiction and nonfiction, novels and biographies.
Recently I had a conversation with a friend regarding this topic. While waiting for an event to start, she noticed that I was reading a work of fiction. She asked why I was reading — not even what I was reading, just why — and I replied that reading is fun and you can learn so much from it. Confused, she ended the conversation.
Parallel that with a conversation I had with Chip Wilson, CEO of 360 Solutions and author of Principles of High Performance Leadership. The topic of reading came up, and I mentioned that I read Benjamin Hardy’s book Slipstream Time Hacking. He said that even though I don’t know exactly what direction I want to go in, I’m ahead of the curve based on the fact that I know who authors are and I’m reading books.
So, despite the fact that it was not my goal to read in that class, I’m glad I diverted from my original plan because it opened my eyes to the importance of learning from books.
Your Environment Matters
One thing I didn’t think about when planning for this class was the environment. I knew I would be in the back room, but I didn’t think about what it would be like. The reality was that I was sitting in a quiet room in an uncomfortable chair with a spotty wifi connection. To make matters worse, I had the class right after lunch and I have the unfortunate tendency to fall asleep easily when I’m in quiet environments.
Needless to say, all of these factors created a very unproductive hour and a half.
The past month of class periods full of silently cursing the strength of public school wifi, struggling to stay awake, and trying to find a comfortable position have taught me that finding the right environment to learn in is just as important as finding the right content to learn from.
Fail Fast and Fail Often
If there is anything I can take from this experience, it’s that failing is good. I know, it’s an idea that’s trumpeted by lots of business gurus, but it’s true. If I didn’t accept my shortcomings in this experiment, my progression would have stagnated completely. I recognize the importance of taking good things from a bad result and creating something new. As Facebook’s mantra said, “move fast and break things.”
As much as my plans didn’t pan out, I definitely learn some valuable lessons about productivity, business, and myself. Failing at this project may not have opened obvious doors for me right now, but the lessons I’ve learned as a result are sure to bring opportunities in the future.