Enjoyment and Learning

"That is the way to learn the most, that when you are doing something with such enjoyment that you don't notice that the time passes."

Albert Einstein in a letter to his son

Some might call what Einstein is referring to here the 'flow' state, but I think it is more along the lines of simply being engaged. Being engaged and active in the thing that you are doing will lead to better learning outcomes. 

I've written before about creating joy, but this quotation inspires me to harvest joy in my life. To seek and find those things that give me the sense of enjoyment so that I can learn more. I get a lot of pleasure out of learning new things, which creates interesting feedback loop of enjoyment, learning, more enjoyment, more learning etc. 

Lastly, this quotation reminds me that, if I am not enjoying something, I am probably not learning much. Though there are things I must do and learn for various reasons, there had better be a good reason for me to learn something that is not enjoyable. Also, it inspires me to keep the balance of things I do tipped towards the enjoyable side because I don't want to miss out on chances to learn more.

Greatness Catch-22

 To become great at something, you have to put in the time and really obsess over it.

But now, there are so many 'somethings' to choose from and each choice feels like a binding investment. It is hard to choose the 'something' you want to do because, well, what if it doesn't work out? Sure, you could spend all your time on one thing but what if it doesn't pan out, not only in the broad sense of success but also in terms of providing money to support yourself?

Granted, this is definitely the result-oriented rather than process-oriented view. Ideally we would do things because we want to do them, not because we want what we could get as a result of doing them. That is hard to put into practice. I'm sure people have grappled with this for ages but it feels particularly difficult now with so many options and so many people trying to give you advice and telling you 'you can do anything.'

Now, this is an extremely privileged position to be in and I think that demands that some risks be taken. Gamble on yourself, go for it, and if something doesn't work out, fix it or move on. Better to live in constant risk than in 'quiet desperation.'



What is Life?

"What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is in the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself at sunset."

Crowfoot Blackfeet

What a quotation! I found it at the front of Timothy Egan's book Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher  which I just started yesterday. The general sentiment that life is fleeting is familiar but I feel that something else is captured here. The natural imagery puts a picture in your head and reminds you of these little snapshot moments that make up life on earth. The last example of the shadow is interesting because it seems a little more mundane and is not necessarily attributed to anything alive. However, it connects to our fundamental notions of time and change. Life is a combination of tiny moments. The sense of purpose we sometimes associate with our lives is something that we manufacture. This gets into the murky swamp that is the question of 'why are we alive?'

For me, the question 'what is life' sometimes feels more magical. It feels incredibly simple and fascinatingly complex at the same time. The answer given by Crowfoot Blackfeet can seem a little depressing in its simplicity. But I think that is the beauty of it, there is space for you to choose what to do, enjoy, and explore in life. 

Creating Joy in Education

"There is no more delightfully serious function in life and in business that to create joy."

William McDonough

in The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability - Designing for Abundance


What a great mantra for life: create joy. I love the language that William McDonough uses. The phrase 'delightfully serious' gets at the fact that something doesn't have to be boring or unenjoyable to be serious, and that goofy or fun things can have a serious side as well. 

The idea of creating joy also makes me think about the work I do as a tutor. My job sometimes involves creating joy, but more often than not, it is mostly mitigating frustration. The high demands placed on students means the focus is often on getting work done rather than enjoying it or really learning it. Hard work can lead to joy, but not when it seems pointless. What I often see in students is relief that the assignment/quiz/test/exam is over, not joy that they've accomplished something. 

There are occasions where I can really spark a students curiosity, explore a new concept/idea and truly create some joy. But this is the exception as 'fun stuff' gets thrown aside when any time-sensitive or high pressure requirement comes up. It is frustrating to feel shackled by the education system and to see students robbed of the opportunity to derive some pleasure from their education. 

This leads me to think about our current education system, and how we can change or redesign it to create more joy. I think that activities that have an element of joy will always lead to better learning outcomes. Even if the student doesn't explicitly learn anything, at least they enjoyed the experience, and I bet they did learn something, though that something might be more difficult to define than 'how to take an integral.'

The idea that there are certain skills and knowledge you must possess to be a functional citizen is a good one, but though our current system supposedly tries to teach those skills, I think it fails dramatically. I don't think that most people remember most of what they learned in elementary and high school. You probably learn some math, how to write and form an argument, and whatever specific things you are particularly interested in. But most of all, you learn to work. To receive assignments, complete them and be evaluated on them. Not a very joyous activity. 

If the current system is not accomplishing its stated goals, let's change it. If a boring model is not getting the job done, let's try an exciting and fun one. What's the worst that happens? Even if it fails to educate students (like the current system) the side effect is that you may have created an extraordinary amount of joy.