failed for fun

On a whim and with time to spare, I decided to start an Intro to Operations course through Wharton via Coursera (ohhh the internet). The last time I took a true online “course” was the summer of 2013 when I desperately needed to scrap together 120+ credits to graduate college in three years. I took three courses online through UCF that summer (the local, massive college in my hometown) including Sport Psychology. I hated learning that way. One of the courses I took was some sort of an anthropology class focused on archaeology. The lectures were ridiculously boring, the quizzes solely regurgitated facts, and the interactions with other students was limited.

It bothered me so much that I actually ended up driving down to the campus to meet with the Sport Psychology professor one day. I was genuinely interested in the material and wanted to learn more. I spent the first 10 minutes talking to him explaining that I didn’t want anything from him, my grade was great, and I didn’t actually go to UCF.

“No one comes to see me anymore so I’m just a bit… surprised”, he laughed.

We spoke for an hour and I left with layered insight into the new field, the job market, and the recommended approach if someone were to try to pursue a life as a sport psychologist. Ultimately, it was a door I closed fairly quickly after hearing him talk about the large egos you have to deal with when it comes to professional athletes. Despite knowing this door was closing, I still wanted to peak in, take a look around, and be on my way.

This Intro to Operations course is making me wish I could meet this professor. He consistently makes these massive leaps in understanding that have me sitting and staring at my computer wishing I could ask a question. I love to ask questions and I love to test my knowledge by doing so. I got fairly discouraged after the first week or so but was determined to keep going even if it meant continually failing. I haven’t failed for fun in a while and it’s good for me to lean into that feeling seeing as I tend to avoid the things I fear failing at. At some point, I stumbled onto the forums and, to my delight, there were numerous folks struggling along at the exact same points I was. One fellow student boasted, “I already have an MBA and I can’t follow week two.” A wave of relief washed over me and my courage built back up.

I spent probably 8-9 hours on a problem set last weekend. What started as small scribbles of equations and graphs on the back of an envelope turned into a mad scientist level scribbling across pages of paper spread across the dining room table at my parent’s home. I was gleeful as the scribbling expanded and my handwriting got even sloppier as my hand tried to keep up with my thoughts. I had forgotten what it was like to actively learn and to put my nose to the grindstone over classes that don’t fit the way I tend to naturally learn. It reminded me of the hours I spent learning Latin, Physics, etc. over the years.

I still wanted to ask questions even as the quiz and test results came back with me passing that week. The feeling of success faded as I realized I still had concepts I wanted to talk through with someone to truly understand. I found it to be so ironic considering I work remotely and have for years that I would be so desperate to learn in person. What does this say about how I learn at work? Is it slower? Is it not in my natural style? Should I spend more time learning how to learn remotely? How do I learn now at work? What brand new challenging things am I trying to learn?

What started as a for fun exercise for my own personal development has made me examine the role learning plays in my day to day life now. I fear I have narrowed my learning to comfortable topics and comfortable approaches.

On the flip side, perhaps this coursera online approach more clearly matches the way I’ve learned most of my life and it’s struck that nerve of familiarity. Perhaps that’s the more comfortable option which is why it’s been so easy to throw myself into it. Perhaps the way I learn now and have since college is so radically different than the normal education system that running into the norm makes me not be able to recognize what I have done to learn and grow. Which is more comfortable now? Does comfort matter for learning? What’s more sustainable?

I remember soon after graduating college reading a few books critiquing technology that were so good I struggled to read them because I got way too excited about the new ideas floating in my head. I’d read a page, scribble in the margins, and want to write a thesis. I’d ramble to people I met about the concepts. I kid you not – at one point I read a book that was so good that I had to go workout to calm my mind down. Whereas most people just sit down and consume a book, I struggle to do that with really great books. I want to go reflect, share, and act on what I’m learning. It becomes hard for me to sit with it. I described this to a friend and she told me to read more fiction books :D.

The excitement I feel over this silly, simple course has lit a very small flame inside me that just maybe I could return to school one day. The biggest problem after the sheer expense would be narrowing down a topic to focus in on considering how much I’m interested in. In the meantime, the flame is there and learning exists far beyond the formal education system.


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