The Difference Between Academics and Learning

I always rushed through school. As a kid, I’d calculate the rate of textbook chapters completion I needed to maintain to finish in April instead of May. I worked straight through any optional breaks so I would finish at noon instead of mid-afternoon.

School seemed like a necessary evil. It was something I knew I had to do to be successful, but it seemed so pointless all at the same time. “Real life” had nothing to do with Earth Science, English Literature or Algebra. “Real life” was about solving problems and getting things done. Therefore, I concluded that the only valuable piece of academia was the process of solving the problems that kept me from being done sooner.

This carried over into my college career as well. World History, Biology, and endless business classes that all taught the same basic communication techniques were simply hurdles that needed to be overcome. Each class was just made of bits of information that needed to be temporarily remembered in order to pass so I could move 3 credits closer to achieving another stamp of success—my degree.

When I finished my BSBA in Accounting, I was ecstatic. I could stop wasting time on learning. I had pushed hard to achieve a four-year degree in two years, skipping holidays, family time, and outings with friends. But the short-term sacrifice seemed worthwhile because I was now free to revel in the success I had achieved at an extraordinarily young age.

Shortly after graduation, many people asked me if I would ever return to school. I laughed. Go back to school? Never. I was done with learning and wanted to simply live life. So I did…for a time. I enjoyed time with my family, real vacations, and renewing friendships that had gone by the wayside.

But then I realized something: as I participated in more conversations with peers and mentors, I noticed I didn’t have much to contribute. I remembered a few vague, outdated details about world history and biology, and I knew the Accounting formula. But I wasn’t engaged in world events, religion trends, or new business developments.

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In all my years of school, I confused academia with learning. I knew that the knowledge in my textbooks was outdated, so I coped by focusing on benchmarks of success. This wasn’t bad. But in the process, I wrote off learning which caused me to stop absorbing new ideas and pursuing thought-provoking conversations. Because of this, I had ignored the big issues of our world.

In short, I was academically ahead, but I had missed what really matters.

So, I slowly started digging in. I started asking ‘why’ when someone made a conclusive statement. I started researching issues and concepts I didn’t understand. I started paying attention to trends in the mini-cultures I lived in or traveled to. It was hard, and many days I went to bed more confused than I was when the day started. But I kept pushing myself to learn.

As a result, my world expanded.

I learned about the horrors of human trafficking and got involved with Dressember. I asked questions about the homeschooling movement and learned about the importance of vision in a movement’s sustainability. I learned about business communication from a Biblical perspective, and it changed my entire leadership philosophy.

I became passionate about learning. 

Committing to life-long learning has enhanced my life in three ways:

  1. Learning increases my empathy. I used to think human trafficking was an issue relegated to third-world countries or to women who chose that lifestyle. I was so wrong. Intentionally learning about this issue gave me a new perspective.
  2. Learning develops my skills. The knowledge I’ve gained post-graduation has been infinitely more helpful than the knowledge I gained while in school. Why? It’s simple. I’m living life now and realize daily how little I know. Instead of pretending to know it all, learning motivates me to constantly be improving myself.
  3. Learning adds meaning to my life. Developing an attitude of Life Learning has taught me to be curious. Having a challenge – each day – to learn new information or understand a new perspective keeps my days from becoming mundane.

So, hand me a high school textbook, and I won’t even touch it. But introduce me to a new topic and I’ll become obsessed with learning as much as I can to understand this piece of our world. In the words of one of my favorite ladies, Abigail Adams:

Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.

What are you going to learn about today?

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