I’ve always profited from taking risks with my education. Not to say that my most insightful papers were written in a batting cage, or that I had a moment of enlightenment whilst reading poetry on a 10 story ledge, but my experience has been that when you ignore that little doubtful voice in the back of your mind and jump in before testing the water, you can circumvent comfort and open yourself to experiences that many people deprive themselves of due to irrational caution. Don’t do this. The water is fine.

An example. I was a transplant my sophomore year of college at UNH. I found myself with two years of college level learning under my belt, but was denied a higher level seminar-style class in anthropology that was reserved for juniors and seniors. I had heard that it was a really good class… So I went anyway.

This was an advanced class in anthropological theory and we spent a lot of time pouring over very old texts written in the most dense language that one can imagine this side of a legal notice of foreclosure. But the other students were “on” the moment they walked in to the class that first day. They were all very excited for class to begin and it was primarily due to our unique professor.

This man would swoop into the room two or three minutes after the start of class, tear off his tweed jacket, undo his tie, take off his shoes and pound a cup of coffee before greeting us and letting us in on a little “behind the scenes” knowledge of what was going on in the department. Then it was right on to business. There was learning to be had.

I was taken aback at first, and really had no idea what to expect, but I found myself mesmerized, and drawn into the work. We read Kant, Morgan, Weber, Engels, Boas, Freud, Sartre, Lyotard… and many more. Our professor lost his train of thought from time to time and we bogged down on semiotics once in a while, but he knew these people’s work inside and out. Not just the theory, but their lives and the circumstances which brought them to write what they had written.

It was a revelation to me. Context counts. You can make things come alive for people… not by playing a clown, but by being truly knowledgeable. Not only with the material, but with how people respond to the material and how to make them a part of the narrative.

It was a powerful class. I learned more in that one seminar than any other like it after, and it never would have happened without that initial acceptance on my part to step WAY outside of my comfort zone in the pursuit of learning. Had I listened to the restrictions that others were trying to place on my learning I would have missed out completely, this lightning only struck once, so to speak.

Some advice. Step out over that water and try something that really challenges you. It might not always be the recommended course of action, but if you have an open mind and seek value from the experience, you’ll find it in abundance.

Share