I’m a composer of “classical” music. I write on commission, mostly chamber works, vocal music, and staged pieces (opera). I work primarily with acoustic instruments, although I also use electronic and mixed media elements on occasion. My music primarily gets played in North America and Europe. Most people would consider what I do to be avant-garde, but basically I just write the music that I’m interested in hearing. I’ve also done a fair amount of private teaching as a percussionist (though less so in recent years), I blog and write actively on musical topics, I’ve led music ensembles/organizations, and I’ve held a range of non-musical jobs. I’m lucky though that I’ve always been able to work in creative fields with forward-thinking people, regardless of the discipline. I’ve never done the barista/bartender, starving-artist-type jobs, and every job I’ve had has done something positive for my musical career.
How did you get there?
As a kid I was always drawn to music. My mom tells me I was pulling out pots and pans to drum on them from the time I could crawl, and not just once or twice—this was one of my favorite activities as a toddler. Naturally, I bugged my parents to let me play the drums when I was old enough to talk. They put me in piano, hoping I would forget about the drums, but I kept at them until they acquiesced when I was in 3rd or 4th grade.
From then on, I became a very serious student of percussion, seeking out the best teachers I could find. I quickly gravitated to jazz, which was my first love. In my early teens, I started writing music. I didn’t think of it as composing, I thought of it as a way to get to play the music I wanted to play. After high school, I attended jazz college, then took an extra year to do the composition option they offered.
Gradually I found myself composing more than playing. I transferred to a full B.Mus program at the University of Toronto, majoring in jazz, but after a few months I knew I would be happier as a composer. At the end of my first year there I transferred into the composition program and I never looked back.
Around the end of my undergrad, I started to have my first career successes. These continued throughout grad school, and I won a number of awards, attended music institutes, and did the other things young composers are supposed to do. Following my graduate degree at UC San Diego, I went to Holland for an extra year of study, where I became quite ill and had to drop out. I spent about half a year recovering under medical care. Prior to then I always assumed I’d end up in academia, but during my convalescing I realized I didn’t want to be in school anymore and wasn’t interested in an academic career.
This posed a problem because most composers survive by working “day jobs” as university professors. There are, however, notable exceptions, and I figured the challenge of not falling back on academia would force me to find a solution like that.
I have, but wow, it has been a hell of a journey! And it’s not over yet. When you’re in a field that does not fit well with mainstream economics, you either need to relegate your work to hobby status or you have to blaze an entrepreneurial trail. I chose the latter, which means I’ve learned a lot about networking, the value of relations, how to be self-disciplined, how to organize my time, and numerous similar skills. I’ve learned that you need to develop the talents that come naturally to you, outsource the stuff that you can’t do yourself, and work around the clock. I gradually started getting up earlier and earlier and I’m usually up these days by 4:30am to get it all in (I felt more than a little smug when I learned Barack and Michelle Obama do the same).
I’ve also learned that the journey is the end goal. Today you’re earning a living on your commissions and grants, great! Next year might be a dry spell and you have to get a job. You just keep at it, and keep trying to do it smarter, more effectively. All the while, you want to grow as an artist, to create work that you’re proud of, that will change history. Composing as a career isn’t about modest goals. You have to want to change the world, otherwise why would you sacrifice so many other comforts?
So in summary, becoming a composer or following any other vocation that is not financially rewarding is a process of self-discovery that never ends. I didn’t “get there” because there is nowhere to get to. I’m constantly going somewhere, and trying to enjoy the journey as much as possible.
Why do you like it?
People become composers because they have a vocational drive to become composers. There’s really no other explanation. I like to work independently, I need creative tasks, I don’t mind details or meticulous work, and I’m a control freak. Those are some of the requirements to be a composer.
Beyond that, the existential, self-discovery aspects are rewarding, if often difficult. I feel like I have a truer outlook on life than many people. My friends describe me as having a certain wisdom.
Somehow though, liking being a composer seems the wrong question to ask. The truer question is, why haven’t you quit? Being a composer is very tough, there are innumerable obstacles, and the rewards are few and far between. The people who keep at it have had numerous opportunities to say, “You know what, this isn’t worth it. I’d doing something else.” But we don’t… That’s the true test of if you’re a composer or not.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a geneticist. I saw a show on genetic engineering on TV around 8th grade and thought it was the coolest thing, changing the DNA of plants in order to make them more resistant to pests or environmental conditions. But in high school I had terrible biology teachers and that completely killed my love of science, at least in the career sense.
80% of the world lives on less than $10.00 a day(1). 50% of the world lives on less than $2.50 a day. The fact that you are able to sit and read this article is a semi-miracle. Our ability to read, interpret and process information is a gift, not a right. We are lucky in so many ways - yet people continue to complain about their “lot in life”, regardless of how bad that lot really is.
The chances that you were born in North America is extremely low. If you were born into a “modern” society, one that values freedom, education, health, innovation & diplomacy, you have already won. You have won The Ovarian Lottery, the greatest leg up you can have in life.
The world is filled with people who love to complain. They complain about how terrible their marriage is, how badly behaved their children are, how soul-sucking their job is, and frankly - how life sucks. And you know what? They are right.
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t—you’re right.” ― Henry Ford
Most people sit around and wait for their “lucky day”, the day where all of their dreams come true. They sit and pray, hoping they win the lottery, so all of their problems will be solved. What they don’t understand is - they’ve already won. Just by being born here, by being alive past the age of five, by having the chance to be educated in a public school system - you have won. You are in the top 20%.
Life is hard - we know this. Next time you start to complain about how hard your career or life is, think of this.
There are 7 billion people on the planet Earth
80% of them make less than $10 dollars a day
1.2 billion people have a disability
7.6 million children a year die before the age of 5
23 million Americans are addicted to drugs or alcohol
What are you complaining about again? Remember - you have already won. Billions of people would trade anything to be in your position. You are the envy of the majority of the planet. You have already won the lottery. Now don’t waste that winning ticket.
I am a substantive editor of literary fiction for adults and teens and Canadian non-fiction, and teach editing, publishing, and media studies at 3 Canadian universities. I also host a radio segment called Books & Bytes, oversee a literary magazine and online portal, and produce a chapbook series.
How did you get there?
Though in high school I’d written agonizing poems, then a column for the local paper, and finally long expository letters home from travels abroad in the summers, it wasn’t until I’d completed a journalism degree at Carleton that I knew the love of reading and writing was less in the news and more in the arts. I was fine-tuning my media literacy so that it fit my aspirations.
Ironically, the ticket to capturing the esprit of reading as a career lay not in the printed word at first, but in radio features and the bi-weekly on-air program I founded interviewing Canadian writers of fiction and poetry called “Write On.” After 3 years and hundreds of authors behind the mic from Michael Ondaatje to Carol Shields, I learned that where there’s an author there’s an editor and publisher close on her heels, and the show opened several doors that knocking couldn’t have.
The show lead to working on the editorial boards of Quarry and Arc, two national literary magazines, reviewing books weekly for the Ottawa Citizen, Vancouver Sun and the Globe and Mail, partnering with the national librarian on a monthly panel on CBC, and when one of my interviewees informed me that his press was looking for an Associate Publisher, I crashed its Christmas party at the Chateau Laurier Hotel and was hired the following week. The sound of literature had lead to the practice of actually making it.
Once I caught the publishing bug, I was infected forever – for 15 years I worked in-house as an acquisitions and structural editor of primarily fiction for adults and young adults at 4 Canadian presses (Quarry, Beach Holme, Raincoast, ECW) and my respect for the intellectual gymnastics that goes into creating those spell-binding books only grew as did my gratitude for the privilege of working alongside the talents – Michael Crummey, Bill Gaston, Terence Young, Adam Schroeder, Patrick Friesen, Norma Charles, Andrea Spalding, Julie Burtinshaw, Beryl Young and so many others. So much talent, so little time :)
Why do you like it?
An abbreviated list of the “value-added” benefits of the study and creation of literature reveals all the characteristics that make it my true passion Literature offers us the world around us and worlds we’ve never seen or even ventured to contemplate. It empowers us to silently and individually challenge the proscriptive power of inherited ideas. It creates a private space in which to escape, imagine, muse, and feel while offering a safe site for experimenting with identity. It gives us the ability to fashion a context for our own experience and to communicate with the past. It familiarizes us with the legacy of those who have come before and allows us to commit what is of value to personal and cultural memory. Literature prepares us to recognize ourselves as unique individuals, but also to build community as a member of a family, culture, tribe, or nation, and as a citizen of the world. It teaches us to make sense of our lives through narrative and to identify and test belief systems while believing in the magic of words.
It offers us choice and gives us pleasure, power and the ability to train ourselves as visionaries. It allows for an active rather than passive role in the interpretive process, a creative act that is a revolutionary tool in the fashioning of independent minds. It accepts every reader and offers immersion, focus, quiet, and resistance where needed. Literature retells history and underlines the reader’s role in both sustaining and extending it. It connects us to the stories of our childhood and of our family while inspiring us to make our own new story. It creates a path from one author to the next and convinces the reader she has the right to follow in the footsteps of those who have come before her.
The books that have done this for me are too numerous to list by name, but each new day brings a new literary discovery so the stories eventually speak to each other and speak for me and to me, not to mention all the attendant media that surround them – radio, film, music and theatre among my rivalling passions – layer and enrich these literary experiences in different forms for it is all STORY. My media world also obviously involves the Web as a platform for all these genres and a place to find others who share their allure, as sokanu.com is now, but in the end both literature and media is like mercury on a table, beading, morphing, and reconstructing in a way that is both slippery and fascinating. I would be voiceless without it and I can’t think of anything else I’d rather spend my days midwifing, indulging, and exploring.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Many of us begin our love affair with books as children – being read rhymes or tall tales before bed; discovering a secret realm in a wardrobe, a hobbit hole or a behind a garden gate; staying up late with a flashlight and illicit comic under the sheets.
Who among us hasn’t escaped through the portal of a book, emerging only to select a new title and re-immerse once again into that seductive realm where the writer’s imagination meets our own.
This is a shimmering place where we can be lost to the world we know, but found in a new one, recognized there in a way we often aren’t outside those pages. This is the moment a reader is born, but for me, also an editor.
As much as I loved the company of others, the company of characters was equally compelling and often drew me to quiet corner, the crook of a tree branch, or the tent pole of a fort to sneak a read. When at 11, I entered and won a contest at the local library by reading 100 books in a single summer I knew the passion had well and truly become an obsession. The prize? Lunch and an interview with Vancouver writer W.P. Kinsella, famous for his title Shoeless Joe optioned for the film that became Field of Dreams.Though he doesn’t likely remember my precocious questions, the exposure to a “real live author” made a lasting impression - for a time I wanted to be one, and then in my 20s I wanted nothing more than to work with them.
Editing and publishing books for youth inspired a project that returned me to those halcyon days of my own childhood when I would have wanted nothing more than to go to “book camp,” a place where I could talk, read, and write fiction with others who shared the same sweet affliction. So in 2000 I launched the inaugural summer Canadian Book Camp for 100 young adults 11-13 with the help of Janice Douglas at the VPL and Suzanne Norman at SFU.
I’d surveyed summer camp offerings - sports, the outdoors, performing arts and technology – but hadn’t come across the perfect fit for the budding young reader or writer who kept diaries, wrote and/or illustrated their own imaginative stories, created homemade novels and feverishly devoured works by their favourite authors. We wanted to offer a fun workshop that took them seriously and excited, motivated, and celebrated young readers and writers while exposing them to the contagious thrill of discovering good books. The camp would offer field trips, interactive sessions with well-known authors, editors, and illustrators, a gala reading of campers’ works, and a freshly-minted edition of young authors’ excerpted in an annual anthology.
This camp was for enthusiastic readers and eager writers who love writing, who have questions about the process, who want their work recognized - in short it was for people who feel the need to read (and write)! Through it I have met children who “meditated with their muse,” who said “I used to be bullied for reading on the playground, now I’m with 99 others just like me,” who were so troubled they had not spoken for over a year and then suddenly did when they met their favourite author at the camp and felt heard – these stories are inspiring and haunt me in the best possible way. Now more than a decade and over a thousand campers later, it has been duplicated in Toronto, Brantford, Orillia and anywhere someone has taken up the challenge to “steal this book camp” and adapt one of their own from our Book Camp Starter Kit.
While the camp allowed me to be a child again, I also returned to the classroom as both student and teacher, doing a PhD in Communications and Publishing and teaching these skills at SFU, Ryerson and VIU. In my thesis, I proposed, like Swift, to outline a modest proposal for the uses of literature. While it did not propose a satirical solution as Swift did to the famine in Ireland (eat the babies), it did propose to satiate a reader’s hunger for imaginative fare by consuming literature (varied, relevant, and of excellent quality) that provides the nourishment to grow a child’s dreams from fantasy to reality. After all, I was living proof.
You’ve probably heard before that one of the keys to being successful (in anything) is setting realistic, achievable goals. Personally, I’ve always struggled with this. It might be ironic, but I’ve even had to make “making achievable goals” one of my personal goals. I’m very pleased to say, however, that after working on this skill for the past few months, it’s already starting to pay off for me, and I though I might impart some of the things I’ve learned here.
Back in July I made a commitment to myself to be healthier. While well intentioned, goals don’t really get more vague than that. For one solid week I awoke every day and made a fresh, nutritious breakfast. I got more exercise. I also went to bed at a reasonable hour, knowing full well the effect that a proper night’s sleep would have on my personal wellbeing. All of these things are undoubtedly healthy. The problem was that I didn’t continue those habits. After that week I woke up and thought, “I’ve been so healthy this week, I can let myself slide a little. Just for today.” So I had a bowl of sugary cereal and didn’t exercise. The next day I felt equally unmotivated to going back to being healthy and ended up going out with my friends and having a few drinks, meandering home somewhere in the vicinity of 2 A.M. Now neither of these things are terrible, but I’m sure it’s not hard to see the pattern that’s forming. My original goal of being healthy fell by the wayside, and I had no discernable plan to get back to it. This, I came to learn, is where I failed.
Making goals—even well intentioned ones—too broad destines them for failure. Without clear steps on how to get there it’s doubtful that you’ll be able to stay on the right track. The key that I missed in this instance was to make smaller, more attainable and measurable goals that will build up to a larger objective.
Since the summer I’ve come to learn quite a bit about setting goals, and perhaps more importantly, how to put in place steps to achieve them. It started when I was catching up on some podcasts while doing some household chores. I listened to an episode of This American Life about Superheroes (which you can find here), and a particular story about a lady named Zora jumped out at me. Zora is a real life Wonder Woman. She trained herself to be a superhero ever since she was a girl, learning to fly helicopters, master martial arts, and defuse bombs. She managed all of this by keeping a list (which she referred to as “The List”) that she would constantly update and revise with all of the skills she wanted to learn if she were to become a real superhero. Amazingly, it worked. Zora didn’t become a superhero overnight, but with time and a hefty amount of diligence she’s been able to accomplish some incredible things.
The methodology behind achieving incredible things by setting smaller, achievable goals is well documented. One of my favorite reads on the subject is here at How Stuff Works. It’s great food for thought, and it can be applied to your career, your health, your personal life, or whatever else you choose.
As corny as it sounds, I took this lesson to heart. I made a list, and I didn’t just fill it with goals like “be healthy,” either. Now I wake up every morning and take my dog for a 30-minute walk, come home and make a nutritious breakfast that I’ve laid out in a meal plan the week before. Three times a week I exercise using a set schedule and workout plan. I haven’t started regulating my sleep yet, but that might come in a later iteration of my list. So far, my goal is to keep those habits and eventually bring myself down to a manageable 15% body fat. When I can put a check beside that goal I can readdress my list and work out a new plan for my health and my future. I might even start doing my own 30 day challenges like our own Renee Masur here at Sokanu. The lesson here is that making attainable goals can make all the difference between failure and success.
From The CEO: Acquisition of Knowledge - The Unfair Advantage
By Spencer Thompson
People that know me well know that I love to preach about the virtues of reading. It has single-handedly done more for my personal development than anything else I’ve done. It has affected my personal relationships, my business relationships and my ability to make decisions. Almost all great leaders have the same feeling - that reading has changed their life. Why is this?
Life is like a giant snowball. When we are young, we spend our time cultivating this snowball. We pack it tightly with the bias that our parents, family and friends give us. We take in experiences, changing our brain - and use this change to pack the snowball even tighter. And then we add the “education” we receive - school-based or otherwise.
Most people form this snowball by the time they are 18, and it forms the base of what they believe for the rest of their life. Very few people take the time to add to the snowball, cultivating it for the future. And fewer still focus on pushing that snowball down the hill so it can start to build itself.
Of course this is a metaphor for acquiring knowledge, but it is my favourite one. Our knowledge bases are truly like a snowball - we add to it all the time but very often the size varies amongst people. The reason is simple - some people are better at acquiring knowledge than others.
To acquire knowledge means to take in signal from all of the noise around us, and apply it to the mastery of your craft or your life. When you read articles on the internet, watch TV or check Facebook, you are receiving information. The question is - is that information useful to you? Can you apply it towards something to make you a better and more successful person?
Very often the answer to that is no. The amount of noise we receive on a daily basis FAR outweighs the useful signal. This is a problem if you want to build a competitive advantage for yourself in life.
Those who are masters at filtering this knowledge learn to build a self-perpetuating snowball. Each meeting they have, each show they watch and each book they read adds to this war chest. What most people don’t realize is that while the the world is incredibly complex, many subjects that appear to be different intertwine in ways we would never expect. Psychology greatly affects business, physics influences biology, technology disrupts most industries, economics affects nearly everything we do, etc…
Meeting people is one of the greatest ways to acquire knowledge. You will soon realize that one of the great quotes - “people lead to people” is very true. Each deep interpersonal relationship you build does not only increase your personal knowledge (and hopefully theirs) but it also creates a network effect for your personal network. With focus on getting signal out of a meeting, it is amazing to see the resulting relationships that are built out of a simple conversation. Soon you will begin to realize that because you have been cultivating relationships over a while, your network is vastly larger than you would have expected.
Ultimately the acquisition of knowledge is useful for one task - making decisions. Whether an investment decision, a personal decision or deciding which car to buy - your snowball influences the speed and accuracy of that decision. Your various “touchpoints” of knowledge all cross and allow you to build an amazing filter in which you process decisions. Looking to download a piece of software? Your snowball tells you what a sketchy spamware site looks like, and that you shouldn’t click download. It tells you that even though the person you are talking to is really nice, they aren’t worth continuing a relationship with (or they are!). And on a simple level - it helps you understand why gas prices at the pump are so expensive.
The most successful people in the world do not have some kind of secret that the rest of us do not posess. Most of them were not born into opportunity like we fantasize that they are. (another post - why we create success bias in our minds in order to make ourselves feel better) They just understand the power of their brain - and how to use it as an effective weapon in the game of life.
Going back to the beginning - it is my opinion that books are the single greatest way to build the base of the snowball (and add to it at a rapid pace). Why is this?
Books are usually the culmination of a life of research and thought (the good ones anyway). When someone at the top of their field spends 25+ years thinking about a topic, then decides to put their life’s work into a bound format that is 300 pages and costs under $30, think about it. The fact that you WON’T read that is pathetic. The gains are exponential. Secondly - a book forces your brain to create visual representations of what it is processing. Unlike images that are fed to us through a TV, a book leaves the pathway from the back to the front of the brain open to intepretation.
In conclusion, spend the time cultivating your personal knowledge snowball. The payoff is not linear, it is exponential. The number of connections you are gaining with each piece of signal is amazing. If you can imagine your life 40 years from now with a self-perpetuating snowball, the results are incredible. There is no bigger competitive advantage you can give yourself.
I am a Fundraising Consultant, working with not for profit charitable organizations. In that role I work with clients to help them: do Strategic Planning (particularly with respect to fundraising); develop a 12-, 24- or 36-month fundraising plan; conduct a feasibility study which tests what they believe their Case for Support is and estimates what level of possible support might be available to them in their future capital campaign; and, run a Capital Campaign. In the latter instance, my preference is that the client actually learns how to run, and actually does run, the campaign so that in the future they can do the work and take ownership for themselves.
How did you get there?
My career has primarily been in marketing: in politics, the marketing of (and fundraising for) a candidate; in advertising, the marketing of a product; and, in charitable work, the marketing of the charity and in turn encouraging support / donations for that charity. My first full time job was with a political party and included fundraising components. I continued to do volunteer fundraising work with charities (going door to door for donations, running special events, dinners, etc). At one point, when I was 36 and looking at a career move (in this case out of advertising), the move to work for a charity and running their door-to-door campaign was a natural one.
Why do you like it?
There are three things that I particularly enjoy: building the relationship with and getting to know the donor and their likes and dislikes, which are keys to their decision to making large(r) donations; running strategic planning sessions amongst 8 - 12 people that confirm and focus an organization’s goals and vision, and then developing plans with them that have measurable outcomes for the future; and, mentoring fellow fundraising professionals who need someone to listen to their ideas, give them confidence in trusting their instincts, and occasional direction as they move forward in their job and career.
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was young and in a church choir, I thought I wanted to be an Anglican minister. Later, in my teens as I headed for university, I thought I’d like to be a mathematics teacher and guidance counsellor.
When I was going through the Education program, one of the first things they told me was to take whatever plans I had and throw them out. They were right. At the moment I teach English as a Second Language, though it wasn’t what I originally intended to do.
Because governments around North America have been slashing budgets for Education, it’s difficult to find stable, full-time employment. I decided not to try getting into the public system; because of my wife’s job I move often, and getting full-time work in a public high school often takes years. So I looked outside, into after-school ESL teaching programs, and I hobbled together a pretty full schedule from three different jobs.
The result has been surprisingly rewarding. Teaching in three environments, under three styles of management, with three different educational systems, makes you hone what you believe. And it’s changed the way I see teaching.
First, I’ve learned that playing is everything, both for me and my students. There is remarkable pressure from parents to use worksheets whenever possible. These can be helpful, and the lower the level, the more useful they are. But the most progress I see is when children are given a blank piece of paper and a crazy question, and then told to write. The key is to provide helpful feedback right away, and have them write some more. When they can play, they see the point of what they’re doing in real-time. They also have fun, which is pretty nice.
Because of this, I’ve learned that I need to play, and that often I’ll fail. I often fail in class. For the students to be creative, I need to be creative in challenging them to do more, and do better. I’ve had to defend my belief in giving students room to create, and the fear of failure is a constant nagging force in the back of my mind. But when I have the confidence to ignore it, I can watch my students thrive. I know that this is not only beneficial for their English: if they can grow comfortable with playing and failing and growing, then they’ll be better equipped to deal with whatever economy they’re faced with when they graduate. I know that if I continue to accept the occasional failure, I can make my classrooms better.
Finally, I’ve learned that a good employer will act as a constructive buffer between teachers and parents. If I want to have my students play, they need to have confidence in me. If I want to be confident, I need an environment that lets me try new things. The after-school programs are there to make money, and this can be an added pressure, as teachers try to justify how much parents are spending. It can be distracting and counter-productive, exactly because we need to be able to fail, and a good manager will help minimize that concern. At the same time, teachers and parents need to talk often, since each has invested so much time in the well being of one person. When there’s a healthy environment, those conversations are helpful to everyone.
My career definitely has not progressed as I had planned, but that turned out to be for the best. I’m fortunate that I’ve been able to experiment with my style and that I’ve had employers willing to invest in me. If I do decide to move into the public school system, I am confident that I’ll be that much stronger for it, and hopefully I’ll give my students the same opportunity to fail that I had.
As a nation, we have adopted a model of judging people quickly and immediately as to how successful they are. That model is education, or lack there of. Very often in business or dinner parties, conversation can quickly turn to level of education.
"Where did you go to school?" one person may ask. "I am a Harvard/Yale/Princeton/Stanford/Oxford 1997 alumni" responds the individual.
Immediately, as if that person has said the magic words, he is immediately given an immense amount of credibility. People automatically assume that he is successful, regardless of the field he is in. Now, if he mentions that he works for an investment bank such as Goldman Sachs in New York City, people’s eyes begin to widen. He is the definition of success in the Western world. Well educated, established in a world class city and has a well paying job is the perfect combination. That individual at the dinner party will have to work really hard to ruin his reputation.
Let’s compare that to another individual. A person may ask the same question, “Where did you go to school?” Except this time, the second individual answers, “I didn’t go to university, I actually moved to Paris to become an artist” The immediate reaction now will be “Uh huh”, and the conversation will move on. That second individual at the dinner party will have to work really hard to improve his reputation.
Why is this? Why do we measure people’s level of success on where they went to school? Isn’t it about the person and their unique happiness? While it may seem not, that is because most people assume that there is only one type of education in the world. We begin to believe that intelligence is defined by education. Of course, this is not true.
In fact, we believe that there are three levels of education: 1. Formal Education 2. Self-Taught Education 3. “The School of Hard Knocks.” By separating education into three types, we can directly define what each of them represent and how people fit into each one. Let’s take a look at each in more depth and try to understand where people go wrong in judging people’s intelligence based on level of education.
1. Formal Education The most common form of education in the Western world, formal education is the process of going from elementary school —> high school —> bachelor degree program —> and possibly a graduate degree. While going through this process, the students make connections, join extra-curricular activities and prepare themselves for the workforce. After going through high school, students can choose to go to college (usually for more hands-on education) or a formal university (usually more theory and academic work), depending on the career path that they have chosen.
Formal education is perfect for students that want a professional career, whether wanting to become a lawyer, accountant, doctor, psychologist, project manager or something similar. In order to become one of these professionals, very often a bachelors degree is not enough, a graduate or doctorate degree is needed. At the top of the mountain of formal education is university professors, who almost always require a PhD and teaching experience. What about the rest of the students? What about those students that want to become entrepreneurs, athletes, musicians, artists, dancers and other things that are not traditionally taught by formal education? Should they still go through formal education just because the system says to? This comes down to what is known as the “hierarchy of subjects”.
As a culture, we have a predetermined list of subjects that are deemed more important than others. At the top are math and science. In the middle are the languages and social sciences, and at the bottom are the arts. Dance is hardly ever included in a list of academic subjects, and visual arts and music are just above that. Why is this? Why, in formal education, do we treat math and science as the be-all-end-all? The system was built in the Industrial Revolution in order to produce educated individuals for the workforce. Today, those who want to be educated into a formal professional can get their degree, but what about the rest of the professions?
2. Self-Taught Education The second kind of education is not that well known. I believe that in the coming years, self-education will become ever more important as more and more people get generalized degrees, and inflationary education sets in. Self-taught education is simply learning from books, seminars, mentors and the internet under one’s schedule and time. Most great musicians, artists, athletes and entrepreneurs go through this method in order to become the best in their field. That painter that I referred to at the beginning of this article would have been self-taught through books, the internet and mentors she may have met in Paris. She is learning more than the majority of people do in a lifetime.
What are the downsides to going with this method? Well, unless you are quite structured and have a love for learning, it can be difficult at times. In formal education, we are used to the structure of predetermined classes, bells to signal the end of periods and set timelines for each day. With self-taught education, we must set our own schedules, be motivated to learn and discipline ourselves to put in the necessary amount of time to make it work. This becomes very easy if you love what you do. Basketball players that want to improve will gladly go out to the court and shoot hoops for three hours. If we analyze this activity, it is self-teaching because it is improving their muscle memory, abilities and intelligence about the game. To the basketball player, it’s just fun. It doesn’t feel like learning.
To the up-and-coming musician, playing the drums when he gets home is not a chore, it’s a gift. He loves playing his drums day and night. (mind you his family may not like these drums day and night). To the drum player, self-education is something he loves to do. The same thing can go for entrepreneurs. How many stories have you heard of entrepreneurs choosing to forgo formal education in favor of self-teaching? With the power of the internet, we literally have any piece of information that we need at our fingertips. And if you don’t like the way that it is presented online, there are millions of books, magazines and audio files available to purchase. Some great websites for online video learning include:
Academic Earth actually includes some full courses at some of the top universities in the world (Havard, Yale, Stanford) that you can listen to online. I am currently going through the psychology course at Yale right now, all for free. There is no better time in history to get a self-taught education. However, there is still another class of education that we sometimes refer to as “the school of hard knocks”.
3. “The School of Hard Knocks” Many times we read stories of businesspeople or actors that don’t go to college, don’t self-educate continuously and yet still become successful. Why is this? Those people have been through the school of hard knocks. Another way of putting this is education on the fly, or building a plane after jumping off a cliff. No matter what you call it, usually it’s a long journey. Many people that are successful did not start out with this burning vision of success in their minds. In most cases, they just started working at a job and began to grow.
I like to use the example of the restaurant owner that started as a dishwasher 20 years ago. When he was just a kid, fresh out of high school (sometimes not even) he simply needed a job. So he got one as a dishwasher at the local restaurant. Unlike most kids that get a job, however, he began to notice the inner workings of the restaurant. He began to observe how the the food was ordered, all of the prep work that went into dinner service and how the waiters and managers interacted. What started out as a job soon became a free education (that he was actually getting paid for!). Soon, he moved up to bussing tables, working late into the night. Keep in mind, however, that he made plenty of mistakes along the way, and this is a lengthy process. However, fast forward 20 years, and that same individual now owns his own restaurant. By graduating from the school of hard knocks, he knows what to do, what not do to, and how to run a restaurant properly.
The same story is applied over and over again in business. An entrepreneur one day has a brilliant idea that pops into her head. She decides to quit her job and dive full bore into this venture. She has no previous business experience, no contacts and no capital to get started. But she is an entrepreneur, and she will do whatever it takes to succeed. She will go through the school of hard knocks for years before she finally has a company that is profitable, successful and creating jobs around the world. A great story that outlines this is the story of Five Guys Burgers And Fries.
So what have we learned from examining the three different types of education? Well for one, we must observe that one is not better than another. Just because someone decides to go through the formal education system does not make them any more intelligent than someone that decides to open up their own art studio. There are millions of different ways to learn a plethora of activities, and there is no set path to success. Education is completely personalized to the career that you want to achieve.
Here is a great quote to illustrate learning: “For learning to take place with any kind of efficiency students must be motivated. To be motivated, they must become interested. And they become interested when they are actively working on projects which they can relate to their values and goals in life” - Gus Tuberville, President, William Penn College
When you become interested in what you are working on, it no longer becomes work. It becomes something you love to do. Learning should not be a chore, and neither should education. You should learn because you want to, not because you have to. Finding your passion is the key to doing this successfully. Intelligence is not determined by education, because as we have learned, there is more than one type of education. Each type is unique to the career path and the individual taking it. In the end, education is just a means to an end, with that end being success. Success in any field, in whatever way you define it. Remember, success is just another word for happiness.
"I was an intern before I started working at Sokanu. #14 is spot on - even though I sometimes feel like my questions are silly, they rarely are and I always learn something" —Renee Masur, Content Manager
Balancing work and school is a skill I’ve been honing since high school. I took on my first part-time retail job at the beginning of 11th grade, determined to save for a trip I wanted to go on. Now seven years later, I’m working at an accounting firm while taking CPA courses (and maybe still saving for some trips I’d like to go on). I think I’ve come a long way considering I’m no longer folding t-shirts and am rather auditing companies; however, the same balancing act is still required. Along the way I’ve found a few things that have worked, and some that haven’t.
1. Evenings are not my most productive study time: nothing is worse than getting home from work at 6, eating dinner, and then having to think even harder than you did all day at the office. I’ve come to terms with the fact that most nights it’s quite likely that no productive learning is going to take place, and that’s to be expected.
2. Working out helps me keep my sanity: giving myself the time to go to the gym or take a walk helps clear my head and is a huge stress-reliever.
3. To do lists are crucial: albeit slightly old-school, I live by my Filofax and sticky note to-do lists. They keep me on track and help me plan ahead. There’s also nothing more satisfying than crossing out a list of tasks once they’re done.
4. Setting out rules helps: I make sure not to force myself to study late at night when I have work the next day, and I make an effort to not stay at work late on nights I have class or do need to go home and get some school work in.
5. The Internet is a really easy way to get distracted: when I finally do sit down to study, I’ve often found myself perusing Facebook, Twitter, Foodgawker, or news websites that I haven’t had a chance to take a look at all day. As a result, I’ve taken to turning off the wifi on my computer when I study and keeping my phone in another room. Less distraction helps me get through that to-do list faster, and I don’t feel bad about wasting as much time.
6. Enjoy the work day: while I’m at work I don’t think about or do anything school-related. I find it’s important to keep the two separate so when I work on one I’m not distracted by the other.
I recently had a chance to sit down and chat with an old friend of mine named Fran. I find Fran’s story to be very inspirational, and I thought it might be a good idea to share it here so that more people can benefit from his wisdom.
Up to a just over a year ago Fran had spent his life working in a kitchen. He is an excellent chef. He had been working in the food industry since he was a teenager, studied at culinary school, and was generally doing well for himself in the restaurant business. The problem was, he simply wasn’t happy. Now, Fran is a very pragmatic person. Even though he wasn’t happy in his job he knew he wasn’t exactly suffering either. He made decent money and worked with good people; cooking just wasn’t satisfying him on a personal level. It led to an important decision in his life; should he remain a chef, living a decent life, or should he take a risk and change his career, possibly achieving something better but taking on a great deal of uncertainty in the process?
Now, this isn’t exactly a novel story, but what I found really fascinating about Fran was how his positive outlook made all the difference for him when he decided to make a change. Instead of being scared of altering course after he’d been doing a certain job for most of his life, he saw it as a fresh beginning and really embraced the change. He left the kitchen and started reorganizing his life. He said he wanted to go through each aspect of his life and find out what was important to him so he could start living the life he wanted.
“What would make the best person I could be,” he asked me rhetorically, “I wanted to find those things and maximize them.” This started with the basic way he went about looking at his day. “At every point in your day you have a choice,” he went on, “You can either see things in a positive or a negative light.” It’s difficult, he conceded, but just like exercising your body you have to continually condition your mind to see how things can be viewed positively. He even suggested making a mantra for yourself as an easy way to remind yourself to be positive. Happiness, he said, starts on a day to day level. When you wake up, organize simple goals that you know you can accomplish, and then things become much less complicated. That was the secret to his success. It almost sounds cheesy, but I can’t argue with the results. Today Fran is one of the happiest people I know, and he’s done remarkable things in terms of his health and his career in the year he has adopted this strategy.
If you want to try to follow this approach, here’s a few tips he gave me to pass along:
- Be patient with yourself. Growth takes time.
- Exercise your body and your mind equally.
- You always have a choice to be positive or negative about your situation. Try to keep things in perspective.
- Make small, practical goals you can accomplish every day.
- It’s never too late to start making yourself happy in what you do.
Reposted from the alpha blog back in the day - from Spencer Thompson
I think a lot of the world’s problems come from the fact that we are, as a species, very poor at framing things against other things. There are multiple terms for this, including: zooming in vs. zooming out, being proactive vs. reactive, or having a micro vs. macro view of the world. For the purposes of this post, I’m going to be using the latter terminology.
What do I mean by this? If you observe most people, you will notice that the problems that they face are relatively insignificant to everyone but themselves. Of course this is to be expected. However, very often this personal view of the world limits people to a degree that is often damaging. I think that many of the problems that people have are a result of having not been taught to frame things in a micro. vs macro way.
First, some terms. Micro, or microscopic, in this context means small, or things related to you personally. Macro, or macroscopic, means large, or things related to many people. I use these distinctions because most people are familiar with them from economics, and the same sorts of principles apply to people.
Most people live in a bubble. That bubble is defined by their circle of influence. Very often that can be detrimental when it comes to making life decisions. Most of us are raised by our parents to have a very microscopic view of the world. Any hardship that falls upon us is massive in nature, because we have nothing to frame it against. A relationship ending, a job loss, or moving houses can seem like overwhelming tasks or events, even though these are extremely small in nature.
Why is this an issue? Aren’t these problems important? Of course they are, but you can’t lose perspective of where you are in the world. If you spend 3 months stressing about a move to a house down the block, you are probably making yourself sick for absolutely no reason.
One of the best principles I have ever learned is something called the “zoom out, zoom in” theory. Whenever you are facing a problem or situation, try and zoom “out” of your body to 20,000 feet, and look down on yourself. Then look at everyone else on the planet. Have a macro view on what is going on in the world. Are people facing a natural disaster? Poverty? Murder? A massive fire down the block? What is happening? While zoomed out, give yourself the perspective you need to center yourself, and then zoom back in. How important is that problem now? Probably not very.
I was once given a piece of advice, and while it may sound harsh, it is very true and is extremely helpful. The advice is - “nobody cares”. Next time you think that you are having “the worst day ever” because your local beer store ran out of your favourite beer, or because you lost a brilliant employee, or because your friend forgot to buy you something for your birthday, remember - nobody outside of yourself and your circle cares. That should give you enough perspective from a macro level to significantly decrease the severity of the situation, and should allow you to deal with it on a normal level.
This can be applied to life very easily, and more specifically - careers. Most people attack career discovery from a micro level. I want a job = I need a job right now = what job can I get right now. Very few people zoom out to imagine themselves five years from now, and see how that job will affect their life a few years from now. When approaching career development, give yourself the respect that you deserve and take a macroscopic look at your life. Ignore things that don’t align what that view and then make decisions accordingly.
Very few people understand the residual power that small actions actually have. Meeting people for coffee, building relationships, reading books, working out, eating healthy, etc… are all things that take a very macro perspective. They don’t give instant gratification, they take a very long time to pay off, if ever. If you can master the ability to consistently frame your actions against a macroscopic perspective, your short term actions actually become small long term decisions. That small shift should make your life a lot easier, because you put less pressure on every action you take right now.
Look at your decisions like you are picking a stock or portfolio of stocks. Are you going to try and beat the market by taking a micro perspective on an industry? Or are you going to plan 20 years out, take a macro perspective on all industries, and plan around that? Very few people beat the market on a short-term basis, and even when they do, they often lose in the next year. The reason? They are not in control - even though they think they are.
The lesson here is - stop craving instant gratification. We are a society that thrives on it. We make decisions about our lives like we are choosing which app to download. Actually, we often take more time to decide which Angry Birds we are going to download. Why is this? Is life not important to you? Of course it is - but thinking on a macro level is hard work. However, I think that if you can master the ability to frame all of your decisions against something larger, life becomes a lot less stressful. You put less pressure on yourself for each action you take, and you can approach life being thankful for the things you do have. Remember - we have already won the lottery - just take the time to appreciate it.
One of my favourite moments in education is when ideas, thoughts, and assignments seem to speak to one another. At the moment I am taking three classes in three separate departments: Poetry, Liberal Studies, and Interactive Communications. At several points, these classes intersect one another in harmony. Similar themes of compassion, empathy, and the industrial revolution have been brought up in every class. Each one seems to blend into the next and ideas that come up in one can helpfully apply to another. THIS is what education should be and it’s finally happened for me, serendipitously. Even better is when these themes also apply to my work.
In Liberal Studies we have been studying works from the Enlightenment: Austen, Smith, Wollstonecraft and Rousseau to name a few. This week Karl Marx was on the list. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from the author of the Communist Manifesto. What surprised and delighted me was his chapter from our selected readings about “Alienated Labor.” Perhaps I am not reading quite enough to know about his entire philosophy on the life of man – but his look into what it means to have a purpose-driven life really inspired me to write this post.
“The increasein value of the world of things is directly proportional to the decrease in value of the human world.” At the time, in the industrial revolution, men were used as tools for production purposes in creating products and profits. This kind of labor has not disappeared. What really resonated with me is what kind of life this produces for the workers:
“The more a worker appropriates the external world and sensuous nature through his labor, the more he deprives himself of the means of life in two respects: first, that the sensuous external world gradually ceases to be an object belonging to his labor, a means of life of his work; secondly, that is gradually ceases to be a means of life in the immediate sense, a means of physical subsistence of the worker. In these two respects, therefore, the worker becomes a slave to his objects.”
When a man receives his wages, it feels as though it’s an apology because the work he does all day does not come home with him. He must suspend himself for hours and hours every day creating and producing for some external source. It is only outside of that work he is able to feed his family and spend time in his community. He is not working for himself but for someone else.
“The worker, therefore feels at ease only outside work, and during work he is outside himself. He is at home when he is not working and when he is working he is not at home.” This is what Marx refers to as forced labor. It is an activity not belonging to the self. In a way, it’s a loss of the self.
When we are working in a job that does not provide us with daily satisfaction, but a paycheque as a means to find satisfaction, are we completely happy?
Some of my classmates made interesting arguments: perhaps this a Darwinian way of being and humans are meant to be unequal (perhaps even miserable at times).
I am quite more optimistic than that. Of course, as long as we receive paycheques, we will always, in some way, be in this “forced labor”, but how can we make this work for us?
If we can engage in our work, find a reason to smile while we do it, our alienation may not be so out there.
Finding a career that is closest to your human nature, what moves you to do better, smile more, and feel that you could keep on giving without feeling like something is being taken, is the way to come home to your work.
Quotations from “Karl Marx: Selected Writings.” Edited by Lawrence H. Simon, 1994
We have a new plant in the office! …not to say that we have a great number of plants here at Sokanu HQ. In fact, this is the very first plant of what we hope will be many.
She’s the species Fiddlehead, of the genus Ficus, which means that she’s from the same family as the common fig tree. We’ve named her Siobhán (shivawn), drawing Celtic inspiration from her fiddle-shaped leaves.
Over the past two weeks I’ve invested a few hours here and there learning about physical-object interaction design using Arduino. It’s been tons of fun—I can picture designing with tangible things instead of pixels and code in a perhaps not-so-distant future.
With a few more hours here and there over the next couple of weeks I’ll enable Siobhán to tell us when she’s thirsty using Arduino, Twitter and a soil moisture sensor from our friends at Earth Easy. Expect to hear from her soon!