do something different: do nothing

I am the laziest workaholic that I know. Always sniffing out what I can do next because, without work, I feel a little lost. I get stuck between so many options — personal projects, work assignments, house chores, catching up with friends, etc — that I end up sitting around.

As someone obsessed with productivity, I am severely uncomfortable with nothingness. And I don’t consider this discomfort healthy. I’m of the opinion that getting comfortable with discomfort is a vital skill. I also believe that doing nothing can inspire and calm a person, and therefore it is a worthy discomfort to “get to know.”

My problem resembles that of a person unable to sleep. Exhausted and desperate for sleep, this person can’t seem to nod away. They persist and lay in bed for hours, shifting around, not sleeping. Instead of wasting time trying the same thing while getting no results (layman’s definition of insanity), one solution is to get up, do something, tire yourself out, and try the pillow again later.

The solution is to do something different. Similarly, in order not to burn out at work, the solution is switching things up — also known as doing something different. Balance work and play with down time.

When I force myself to work without breaks, my system gets tired of the same motions. Cut to: me, sitting and staring at my to-do list, trying to figure out what to do first, next, and last. Cut to: The headache has started to settle in with its insidious beating pulse. Cut to: my 4th cup of coffee. Instead, the answer is — if I’m truly uninterested or really that tired — then I need to — say it with me this time — do something different.

But, what about the things you absolutely must do? Then shouldn’t force be used? To that, I say this:

  • Forcing a task into execution can lead to half-assed results. When your hands, head, heart are doing the same thing, focus is easy and results are amazing. But when your (respectively) body, mind, and soul are detached from each other, quality productivity is impossible. When you’re into — and by into, I mean attracted to — the activity, you are immersed and your whole system (mind, body, whatever) is at work. Considering that the quality of your work will be of a higher caliber, why not enjoy what you’re doing?

Sometimes, there is no urgent task. Other times, all your tasks are urgent. For those who literally schedule time to relax, doing nothing spontaneously is as amazing as finding water in the desert. Doing nothing refreshes your mind.

Now, here’s my problem (what with me being the laziest workaholic and all): My discomfort with nothingness contradicts my desperate need for a whole lot of “me time.” I am lazy, yes, but I can’t stop thinking about work. So, I go to grab my phone (even when it’s not around). I think about tasks ahead and appointments for the week ahead. I look around to see that everything is where it should be. Even when there is no urgent task, I have trouble detaching myself from work mode.

Instead, take a moment to pause, to breathe, to look around. Doing nothing is a luxury to be taken advantage of. If you have that time, savor it. Use that time to not only de-stress, but also to step back, to get inspired.

Although I am uncomfortable with doing nothing, I am confident that doing nothing is a worthy skill to master.


Pink Floyd, education, and choice

Lately, when I play the Radiohead pandora station (which I do often), the song “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2” always catches my attention. Usually, the station is background noise. I play the Radiohead station because it gets my creative juices flowing. This time, the music moved from the background to the foreground, and Pink Floyd called out. “We don’t need no education,” is the famous phrase, and it doesn’t take too much digging to find the connection between alternative education and Pink Floyd’s message.

Clockworkfloyd (Tumblr)

Alternative education provides a solution to the kind of traditional schooling that Rogers Waters references in this song. The solution isn’t so much the alternative itself, but instead, simply having a choice. There are currently 49,484,181 public school students, and I’m saying they all should have a choice to stay or leave. For many, public school works, making them into interested and interesting adults. For others, school stifles them. Does turning away from school mean they are less intelligent, less competent? No. It means they will have to work diligently to make their individual path, to design their own learning; and it can also mean an enriching journey, one layered with awesome rewards.

I’m not sure Waters had alternative education in mind when he composed “Another Brick,” but I do think the song is a plea for a different educational system.

To me, at least, it seems cruel to not offer the choice, to avoid asking the honest questions. Like, for example, to the parent of an unhappy student who refuses to let go of the dream (of good grades, shiny diplomas, and exemplary schools), I would ask: What are you scared of?

What did Waters mean by “we don’t need no education, we don’t need no thought control”? These words are chanted in unison by school aged children. As seen in the video (click the song name), the damage has already been done to these kids. They are already all the same, just copies of each other.  The song’s lyrics combined with the music video suggest that factory-schooling churns out people completely devoid of individuality, but — and this is very important — they are not quite apathetic. These brick-kids (kids that are all alike just like the bricks on a wall) are traumatized. Soon after the video opens, a pale, nervous boy is seen hiding from a wrathful teacher. It is not clear whether these kids still believe in learning (or for that matter, in anything), but what is certain is their distaste for formal education. Get me out of this prison, the song and the video exclaim.

Many children are never offered the opportunity to leave school. Leaving school is a scary taboo. But if staying is a struggle or leaves a student unhappy, then why continue trying if there might be something better?

Rogers Waters tagging up the Berlin Wall (I think this was in 1990, but I can’t seem to find any confirmation on that.)

Standing up for my beliefs on teaching, learning, and working

At the start of June,  I met with an old guidance counselor, Ms. V, for coffee. I said to her, “I think I’m dropping out of college,” and she laughed. After explaining my plan and defending my beliefs, she called me a nut. Or did she say nut-job? She rebutted with a lot of talk about reality, low-pay, and not being taken seriously as an adult.

Ms. V is a successful, educated professional whom I respect and consider to be a valuable part of my support team. We have known each other for over five years, and she has always rooted for me.

I’m not sure if she considers herself conservative, but I definitely would — at least in this context. These revolutionary ideas of depending on work experience and self-directed learning did not sit well with her. At all. I tried to pry open her mind, but she held firm.

She asked her if I had a plan, so I explained my blueprint for building my portfolio — gaining relevant work experience, obtaining my TEFL certificate, blogging, networking, volunteering, etc. — to which she raised an eyebrow. In the 21st century, you cannot have a career without a college degree. Period. The words naive and idealistic were thrown around quite a bit. She asked me how I would establish myself as marketable without a degree. I said, “That’s easy. With work experience, recommendations, and with my ideas.”

I realize how radical it is to send your child to school with a teacher who is formally uneducated. It doesn’t quite make sense — how am I supposed to teach when I have never learned? Well, 1) I have learned. Sometimes at school, but mostly on my own. And I will continue learning (hopefully forever). 2) My role at whatever school brave enough to employ me will be more of a guide and facilitator than of a teacher. I want my students to want to learn, to pick what they learn, where, when, how, and why. My students will be pulled into their education, not forced.

And unfortunately, as a college student, that’s exactly how I feel about college — like I’m being forced.

We discussed the meaning of college, and I asked her why she would only hire a graduate. The two big reasons were that college ensures that they’ve learned their practice, and that college shows they can follow the rules. College graduates are obedient. Now, this really threw me off — to the point where I almost felt a little sick. “So, you would rather hire an obedient, inexperienced graduate than a competent drop-out with a good resume?” And she said yes. According to her, graduates can be trained whereas drop-outs are risks.

We didn’t really breach the subject of unschooling for children and adolescents because the lunch was mostly for getting advice for my particular situation. The advice given was heard loud and clear: GET A DEGREE. I think I can safely assume that Ms. V would not take kindly to the idea of unschooling, free schooling, or democratic schooling. She respects self-directed learning, but “do it on your own time.”

After our debate, we ended things amicably. I told her that I’d prove her wrong, and she said “I hope you do.”

These days, I waffle between whether or not I should get a degree. If I find a college that I feel offers me a respectable amount of agency, then I will consider committing to that. I wonder about unique options like Goddard and Prescott College. But, for now, I will work and learn on my own terms. Thanks anyway, Ms. V.