The Forgotten Value of the Unaccelerated, Explorative Path
My life has been a blur of acceleration: graduating middle school early, AP classes in high school, a dual degree program in college etc. I graduated with my masters at 23, more credentialed than most people my age but more lost than most people wirth my credentials. Living in the fast lane was living with tunnel vision, oblivious to opportunities beyond my field of view and misconceptions in my perceptions of my destinations of choice. Constantly drowning in my endless to-do lists, I saw surprises as setbacks rather than opportunities, learning experiences, and a natural part of life.
Being who I’d been led to believe was the best version of myself meant denying my curious and resilient human nature for scripts the wunderkinds I look up to would never bother with. A common thread I see between the journeys people who change the world is making time to explore what no one tells them to explore from Jobs travelling through India to Gates reading and skipping class to audit classes that interested him more. As I pondered which script to follow next, I realized I didn’t feel comfortable committing to any of them, so I decided to write my own story for the first time.
In the eyes of many around me, I’d lost my focus. In my own eyes, this focus on completing curricula crafted by others as fast as possible had been a distraction from what I needed to learn about most, myself. We find ourselves not through indoctrination in the norms of the boxes society sorts us into but through questioning and venturing outside them.
While the media romanticizes the few lucky enough to stumble upon and actualize a “why” early in life, self discovery often doesn’t showcase its value to the outside world until later. 38% of entrepreneurs found their companies after 40, often capitalizing on decades of experience with the populations they serve through their professional and/or personal lives. Yet those more than a couple years into their careers are denied many mentorship, collaboration, and exploration opportunities and evaluated against a much higher bar than their student and fresh grad peers for others thanks to a societal narrative pressuring us to cut our own learning journeys short to box ourselves into the role of teacher, when we all have things we could learn and teach regardless of age and experience level.
What If the Final Iteration of Yourself Isn’t Meant to be Found in Your 20’s? Before delegation culture took over the corporate landscape, Renaissance men explored whatever inspired them, finding ideas at the intersection of realms much more transformative than one-dimensional increments of progress. Though few are familiar with Da Vinci’s engineering inventions or Copernicus’ medical practice, there’s no doubt that these endeavors contributed inspiration and perspective to their hallmark works, a testament to the fact that creativity ignites at the interface of different worlds.
Our fast changing world requires us to learn throughout our lives, yet the ticket to societally respected learning and exploration opportunities and the commitment involved keeps growing. Modern higher education is a bet that the strengths and interests that draw us to a field will remain relevant as we advance deeper and deeper into the iceberg hiding under perceptions in lay, amateur, and even intermediate circles that only tell a fraction of the story. 66% of grads with an undergrad degree or higher have regrets about the cost, field of study, or other aspects of their education. Many people make it part way through a PhD program before realizing their field of choice isn’t a fit. While it’s not their fault that their earlier classes painted an incomplete picture of their area of study, they often face ridicule for “not knowing themselves” rather than support in finding better suited opportunities that capitalize on transferable skills they often don’t realize they have after spending years in a silo.
With the free, freeform approach of trying out different jobs, the pace and scope of one’s exploration are restricted only by how fast they can land jobs. Though competing with non career changers can be a challenge, there’s always an opportunity you can find, create, or convince someone else to create catered to your unique blend of skills and experiences. The average work week is less time consuming than the average school week, empowering working professionals to pursue learning on the side in whatever formats and portion sizes serve them best. Leaving a YouTube video or Coursera course unfinished or taking longer to finish it than peers doesn’t come with the stigma of dropping out of a degree program, empowering students of the unaccredited world free to pivot, breathe, and introspect.
The most valuable life lessons often come in small, unexpected tidbits. The more diverse people, places, and ideas we expose ourselves to, the more such tidbits we stumble upon. Though I know many disagree, I firmly believe that life is better without blinders.
Call to action: What are some new callings of yours? What are some low commitment paths you can take to explore them?