Learning is Living is Risk Taking

By Jess Knott

“Interest in learning from all the contacts of life is the essential moral interest.”
-John Dewey

How old are you? Possibly, you are a student, getting through your courses with your eyes set firmly on the horizon of your future. In words that don’t make me sound like a motivational speaker you’re “getting classes out of the way so you can start your life.” That’s how I felt when I was in your shoes. There I was, “working this job temporarily,” waiting for my real life as a hard-hitting journalistic beast to begin.

Or, maybe you’re a little older, but at one of those career stages where you don’t know that you want to be doing what you’re doing now, but you also aren’t sure what you want to do next. Been there. Done that. I think we all go through it.

I’ll be be honest. I’m lucky that Darwin didn’t get me before my 22nd birthday. To look back at my 22 year old self, freshly hired and ready to take on the world, my first thought is “WHAT is going on with your hair?!?!” My second thought is “Oh, shut up already.” The majority of my current career knowledge I came about the hard way. Mostly because I wasn’t very good at just zipping my lip and listening to what people were telling me. But, also because I’m a somewhat of a risk taker.

If my husband is reading this, he’s laughing right now. “Risk taker? You have your seatbelt on before I start the car, and you’re hiding in the basement from severe weather before it hits Grand Rapids.” True.

But when it comes to learning, I’m a fearless, cape-clad superhero, armed with the knowledge that all experiences can result in learning if you just stop to reflect on what took place. For example, I learned to ski by strapping boards to my feet and jumping off hills. I learned that this is an excellent way to sprain an ankle. I learned to play roller derby by lacing up some skates and throwing my body around in ways no doctor would endorse. Here, I learned that there is nothing more empowering than pushing your body to its physical limits and beyond. My academic and professional development learning style is much the same. “This doesn’t work. What if I try this? What haven’t I done? Let’s see what happens when I take it apart. Hm. It’s broken. Now what?”

I guess what I’m getting at in my own meandering way is that taking risks is OK. Why are we so focused on the 4.0 that we learn only what the syllabus tells us to learn? Isn’t there more out there that we might find more useful, applicable, and interesting? What is it about the way we live today that has students taking so many classes while they work their internship that they’re asking their instructor if they really have to do the work, can’t they just get the grade and be done (Yes, this happened. In the class I was teaching. For real.)? Why couldn’t this student feel empowered to ask me to complete an alternate assignment, one more interesting and applicable to them? Doesn’t real-life experience count for something too? And why are we letting people tell us what we need to learn? Can’t we empower ourselves to learn more? And make it mean something? Wow, that’s a lot of questions. Sorry, I got a little worked up. I’m back now.

Think about the biggest risk you ever took. And I don’t want to hear about the time you replaced the cooking oil with applesauce in your coffee cake recipe. I want to hear about a big risk. Mine was leaving a job I’d held for 11 years, with great job security and awesome benefits, to come to a new job in the scary private sector, taking me out of the academic world I’m so comfortable in. I spent the first week thinking “what’d I do, what’d I do, what’d I do ohmygosh WHAT DID I DO?!?” Then, I had a stern talk with myself, let go and jumped in. I made friends, I asked questions, I broke things. And I’ve learned more in the past year than I’ve ever learned in my life. I’ve learned things I can’t get a 4.0 on, that don’t fall into any rubric that’s ever been written, that I can’t rely on others to do. I’ve learned to ask for help. I’ve learned that it’s ok to look stupid, and that you often don’t look as stupid as you think you do. (Except for the day I wore my shirt inside out for three hours. That looked pretty stupid.) Regardless, you’ll never know if you don’t ask. Please, for the love of Pete, don’t be afraid to ask.

What I’m getting at is that you should all get off your butts right now. Literally. Stand up. Shake it around a little bit. Get loose. You loose? Now, say out loud, “I’m going to DO something about this.” I’m going to focus on what my classes are teaching me about life, not about how much I don’t want to do the work. I’m going to leave this mediocre job and find one that I’m passionate about. I’m going to do more for my community. I’m going to learn, and keep learning, because that’s the only way I’ll ever make my life what I want it to be. Tell yourself: I’m not going to be afraid anymore. Without risk, there is no adventure. Without adventure there is no living.

Now, get out into the world and live life!

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Jess Knott is a Spartan for life, MSU alumna, and current graduate student. She is also an instructional designer, self-professed nerd, and Dave Isbell thinks she is one of the most fun people you will meet in Lansing. You might also know her as her altar-ego, Addie Mortem of Lansing’s Derby Vixens. However, you probably know her best as one of the leaders of the #LoveLansing movement, where her and her husband Ryan either lead or attend just about every event that is happening in the city. You can find Jess on Twitter as @jlknott or catch the more serious side of her at http://www.jessknott.com.

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