“Self-education has never been more fun, and that is because we are in control of that process like never before.”
When I read this statement in an article in Fast Company magazine by staffer Tyler Cowen, it was as if a loosely thematic idea in my mind had finally found its voice and direction. Actually, the entire article was filled with what, for me, were loose ideas that have been wandering the deserts of my mind to find the oasis of Cowen’s thematic profundities:
“More and more, ‘production’ …has become interior to the human mind rather than set on a factory floor.”
“…the ‘human capital dividend.’ The reallocation of consumer time into the ‘free sector’ on the Web will liberate the efforts of many producers and intermediaries, just as the automobile’s advent shifted workers out of making buggies for the horse.”
“The Web unites millions of diverse individuals, who interact and sometimes even meet up or marry.”
To be fair, I suggest you read the entire article, titled “One Lesson From the Crisis: It’s Time to Create Your Own Economy“. For me, the bottom line is that we have countless opportunities to be constantly learning, many of them requiring time but little to no money. These may not be the best learning opportunities, but they can play an important, iterative role in self development if pursued with an economy of purpose. Economy of purpose? Yes, I mean a careful, organized, functional, even thrifty management of personal growth and direction.
Kids these days have made common the phrase, “That was random.” When friends and colleagues ask me to “explain” Twitter to them, I evoke this phrase and suggest that Twitter is “random micro-blogging”. In fact, Twitter as a medium disseminates information from people in a fashion that is about as random as it gets. [I’m getting old: not only have I now started a paragraph with “Kids these days…”, but my contemporaries still ask me the follow-up question, “…and what is this ‘blogging’ thing all about?”] But I learn from Twitter as long as I invest my time twittering with an economy of purpose. I am certainly inspired by communications from some of my twiends and distilling my thoughts into 140-character tweets is a great discipline.
But there is a problem in all this opportunity: while each of us has more and more control over our own education and development, most people are approaching personal and professional development in a more and more random fashion, with little design, based on decisions ruled by impulse rather than intention, and heavily reliant on circumstantial grace. By “circumstantial grace”, I mean people rely on either their employers or the government to determine and finance their choices and possibilities, as well as the degree, location and value of personal learning investments. This is basic “entitlement thinking” at its most dangerous.
In an era of the greatest possibility for personal freedom, we are becoming a nation filled with “victims of circumstance”.
Adults still exercise personal freedom in accepting employer-sponsored training, and even make personal sacrifices in pursuing traditional post-secondary education. Any other interests, needs or opportunities too often are random acts of learning. The effect: less rigor, less retention, less value to serve the purpose of their lives and the world around them. Exceptions abound, evidenced by the growth of the training and development industry, but that growth is fueled by people at the high end of a wide learning curve.
Don’t get me wrong, I am all about serendipitous learning (that is, I advocate taking advantage of random opportunities for learning and development). Why else would I have an active Twitter account?! Why else would I write a blog and read voraciously on divergent subjects. Why else would I encourage my readers to make time for “meandering” in their lives? Even the proverbial “Ah, ha” moments of discovery learning and the reflective learning that often follows, however, have more power in context. We have the responsibility to create context for our own learning. We must become the captains of our own development.
You want to do what?
What I am finding is just the opposite. Within the past month, I have been approached by three individuals who, during our initial conversations, have made very strong cases, for themselves, to hire me as their business coach. They cite both compelling and measurable rewards for investing their time, hard-earned money and commitment to change that is necessary for working with me. They state clearly what they consider the high costs or consequences of not hiring a coach. They have been ready to make decisions but, rightly so, want to discuss it with a spouse or loved one before they “write the check” and get started. I’ve been around the block a few times – I have experienced this directly in my own marriage – so I inform them that the most likely response from a significant other when you seek their approval to invest in personal change is usually something like, “You want to do what?”
In their parable, The Dream Giver, authors Bruce Wilkinson and Heather Kopp describe how Nobody, who lived in the Land of Familiar, decided to leave home to pursue his Dream. I love this book. I highly recommend it. The Dream Giver demonstrates how it is often the people closest to us, those who love us the most, who often pull back on us the hardest when we seek to grow, to change, to go somewhere beyond the Land of Familiar. This happens because if we change our lives, their lives must change through loss of propinquity and not by choice. They may not choose to join you on your journey, but if you pursue your journey, they are left changed by your pursuit.
“Then he had a surprising idea. Couldn’t it be that maybe the Dream Giver gave every Nobody a Dream, but only some embraced their dreams? And even fewer pursued them?…” (page 18)
“…But Ordinary, that journey is anything but sensible or safe. Why leave familiar? It’s so comfortable here. And besides, you’ve always lived here.” (page 19)
Not one of my three recent prospects I referenced earlier, so far, has made the final decision to invest in his or her own development. In one case, a woman was convinced by her husband that she needed to see a psychologist for therapy instead (after all, his company’s Employee Assistance Program would pay for it), and that’s what she has chosen to do!
There is a cost, sometimes a high cost, when you commit to change. The currency of change comes in the form of finances, of time, of re-negotiated relationships. Ultimately, it is all one currency – your commitment to change.
When I describe these costs to people thinking about pursuing any kind of personal or professional development, I suggest they do the following, and I suggest you do this, too:
- Tally up how much money and time you spent on personal entertainment in the past 12 months. Try to be as accurate as possible. Include everything from movies and popcorn, to dining out, to new TVs and home electronics, to travel vacations.
- Next, tally up how much money and time you invested in personal or professional development in the past year. Again, try to be as accurate and inclusive as possible. Keep in mind that learning, though often a struggle in process, is typically fun and fulfilling as a result.
- Consider the difference between these two sums.
I believe the most accurate gauges of Personal Values is your checkbook and your calendar – how you spend your money and time. The simple activity above, then, reveals a highly accurate measurement.
- If you have completed your activity above, which do you value more: Self Indulgence or Self Development?
- If you value indulgence over development, you are living at the “Intersection of Impulse and Now.”
- If you value growth over indulgence, you are living at The Intersection of Purpose and Now.
You are responsible for creating the context for your own growth and happiness. It is a matter of choice.