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Graduation Countdown: How do we keep learning?

Throughout the vast majority of my life, someone in authority has dictated when and where to “learn.” From my parents reading to me as a young child to college professors setting my learning timeline through strictly scheduled papers and tests, I have never truly had to self-motivate in order to learn. However, as graduation quickly approaches, I started to realize that my drive to learn would no longer be tied to the fear of a failing grade. In the “real world” there are no papers, no exams and certainly no syllabi. And to be perfectly honest, this was a scary realization. As someone who prefers marathon-ing episodes of Law and Order: SVU to watching endless hours of CNN, the absence of an external pressure to stay engaged and continue to learn was at first alarming. I worried that I would become so wrapped up in post-grad changes that I would become absolutely stagnant in terms of my learning.

And then at the start of the semester I started on a final class project aimed at exploring the concept of what it means to continue learning after graduation–and not just learning how to not get fired from your job, but actually learning for the sake of learning as opposed to for a grade. While I may not have it completely figured out, here’s what I realized about how to integrate learning just for fun into a hectic second semester senior (and beyond) schedule…

1. Set reasonable goals

I came to realize that juggling the job search on top of a full schedule of classes and work was not conducive to spending hours reading or watching the news. However, I did realize the importance of multitasking and carving out parts of my day when I had the time to dedicate 20 minutes to learning something interesting. It doesn’t matter if it took me a month to get through a book, as long as I read it and enjoyed it that was what really made a difference.

2. Learn about what you actually care about, not just what you think you should care about

It was easy to decide that a truly engaged, worldly person spends all their free time reading the classics and completing the New York Times Sunday crossword. However, I slowly realized that if I didn’t truly care about finding 9 letter word for information, and I shouldn’t be wasting my time. I found that I really enjoyed listening to podcasts such as RadioLab and Invisibilia while driving, and felt that I was wasting less time when compared to listening to the same 5 songs on repeat on the radio. And if I got three chapters into a book and decided it wasn’t for me? There was no need to push through it in order to be able to write an essay on it or actively participate in a class discussion. I loved reading Middlesex and The Opposite of Loneliness, and genuinely enjoyed the time I spent reading on the plane or sitting on my porch swing. 

3. Set aside time in your day

And identify the wasted time in your day and maximize it. Whether I was in the car for 20 minutes to and from work or had an extra chunk of time before class, identifying those gaps in my busy schedule and maximizing the time helped me feel less hectic and more productive in my downtime.

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