From a rigid school-based perspective, I have always been a terrible student.
I was the problem child who questioned the work and did things my own way. If it didn’t have a foreseeable real-world application, I argued against the value of the lesson or test, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering mother, who home-schooled me from preschool through high school. My entire mindset was “Unless it seems valuable, get it done and over with as quickly as possible.”
Upon graduating high school, countless people said I should enroll in college.
Over time, enough people bothered me about it that I decided I should give it a more serious look. After all, going to college apparently was the only way to get a job in which I could support myself. To my horror, I discovered that to obtain the almighty diploma I would have to take a plethora of classes that had little to do with my desired area of study. To make things worse, I would have to spend hundreds- if not thousands- of dollars on all of these additional required courses. Yuck! Couldn’t there be a better way to get ahead in life?
Dropping the college idea, I took up a couple of jobs. I would spend the next four years saving up money to help me through whatever the next step in life would be. In the meantime, I would do what I had always dreamed of doing: spend my weekends traveling the Pacific Northwest and hiking every trail I could find.
Over the years, people would still occasionally bug me about college “You should go,” they would say, “You’re not just paying for a degree, you’re getting valuable life experience.” “You can’t get ahead in life without getting an education,” others would state. Again, I internally cringed. There had to be a way to get all of that apart from incurring tens of thousands of dollars of student debt on classes that I couldn’t care less about. Besides, had these people seen the “college experience”? Did they really want me to spend four years surrounded by a crowd notorious for their drunken parties, constant stress, and all-nighters? Thanks, but no thanks.
There are hundreds of other life experiences I’d rather have than the “college experience”, and I felt like I had been getting a reasonable share of them.
While my friends were spending all of their money on classes, I had socked away over $24,000 in my bank account. While they sat around doing homework, I climbed mountains, explored cities, hiked along an abandoned railroad, and flew across the country to get to know a group of YouTube stars.
Even in all of this, however, there was still the question of education. Sure, I was definitely saving up more cash and having more fun than my fellow twenty-somethings, but were they still going to come out ahead on the learning factor? Had I been learning anything over the past several years since graduation? More importantly, was I gaining any knowledge or skills that could help me land a decent job? In short, the answer turned out to be yes.
As I examined how I had spent my time over the years, it hit me: everything is a learning experience. How could I have missed this for so long? I had been so hammered with the idea that learning was a classroom activity that it simply hadn’t occurred to me that life is a learning experience in and of itself. I decided to dig a little deeper; yes, I had been learning, but could the things I had learned and done transfer into employable skills?
As I broke down the activities I had been participating in, I began to see that almost everything could be used to market myself to potential employers:
What I am doing: Keeping up a weekly blog.
Experience: Following through on deadlines, written content creation.
What I am doing: Taking a weekend hiking/camping trip.
Experience: Research, planning, time management.
Traits: Forward-thinking, adventurous
What I am doing: Picking up paid photography gigs.
Experience: Self-employment/freelancing, marketing, photo editing, photography (obvious, I know. But still employable experience in itself).
Traits: Motivation, creativity
What I am doing: Flying across the country to a YouTube meetup.
Experience: Budgeting, networking.
What I am doing: Working through a difficult patch in a friendship.
Traits: Determination, caring.
So, what about you?
What experiences are the activities in your life providing you with? Maybe you’ve noticed that your work on a podcasting or YouTube project has been helping you become a better communicator. Perhaps that job where you work all by yourself is teaching you time management skills. Maybe planning that family vacation helped you to understand money management and made you realize you’re fabulous at research.
Everything you do has the potential to be translated into valuable experience. Look at your life from a new angle and take notes. You may be surprised at what you discover!