Tag Archives: learning

Discovering Your Career

It can take years of adult life before an individual realizes what they’re really good at. Years! Since I’ll be applying to graduate programs in a number of months, I’m inclined to speed up that process.

I’ve found that passionate interest can be very hard to tell from practical talent, and when pursuing a career, talent (more than passion) is what counts. Passion is a prerequisite to talent, and acts as the necessary motivation to devote time and effort toward an activity. However, the presence of passion doesn’t necessarily indicate the presence of skill.

Take for instance my three years of competition in speech and debate. What got me started in the league was my passionate interest in oral interpretation, a form of storytelling and acting. I also experimented with debate out of curiousity. As the years went by, my interps never ranked very highly (though I loved performing them). Debating, however, was another story—I consistently ranked higher as my skill level rose. Despite my own bias towards interp, dispassionate panels of judges helped me realize where my strongest talent existed.

The ingredients of speedy self-discovery seem to be experience, second opinions, and (to a lesser degree) contemplation. When all these components come together, it’s hard to ignore the boundaries separating talent from pure passion.

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Choose Your Future – Now!

What would you say if someone asked you to choose what you want to do with the next phase of your life?

The question has been posed to me, in multiple forms, a lot recently. It’s pretty unnerving. The reason is that I’ve decided to graduate a year early from undergraduate college, and have suddenly put myself on the fast track to the future.

Where do you want to go? What do you want to do?”

Answering that question is key to finding appropriate graduate schools. It needs to be answered so I can form the right kind of future for myself—one I’ll enjoy and thrive in. What if I answer incorrectly? What if I just don’t know?

Thinking back to when I first entered college as a freshman, I had little idea what I wanted to do. I knew what I liked—writing and video—and went from there. I’ve learned about the intricacies of these two professional fields . . . but not enough to be able to see the future.

Perhaps I’d do well to remember that finding a good course or a school that fits is a lot like finding a friend or romantic partner. There’s more than one good fit available, and no place or person is perfect. Experimentation is key to finding out what you really like . . . so whatever career I settle on for the future, I better start today.

Life Without Books

When finals ended this semester, one of the first things I did was go looking for a good book to read. According to the internet, this habit of reading for pleasure isn’t shared by everyone—33% of high school graduates won’t read another book after high school. To my fellow lovers of words out there, this probably sounds absurd.

I can partially understand the choice to avoid books if these young adults are only exposed to required reading. Who would want more of that? To quote Charlie Chaplin in his Autobiography:

If only someone had … infused me with fancy instead of facts … given me a point of view about history and taught me the music of poetry, I might have become a scholar.”

Enthusiasm drives learning, and I think what influences a child’s love of reading most is their parents. I often had books read aloud to me, before entering kindergarten. My parents involved us kids in summer reading programs at the library (with prizes!), so reading was exciting.

I learned to love books early, and that’s why a life without books is hard to imagine for me. Now I search out new ideas on my own, for the pure joy of it.

5 Reasons Why Artists Should be Trained in Math

By most people’s standards, my professional work is artistry. I’m not a scientist or technologist, nor an accomplished scholar. Why then should I be interested in mathematics, the language of the Universe?

These are my reasons.

          1. Pattern recognition

When you practice many problems in many different forms, you see patterns emerging. Not only do you notice these patterns, you learn to recognize them and react appropriately.

This skill translates to every aspect of life. Especially useful is recognizing patterns of human behavior, so you can understand the human forces acting around you and be a better judge of character. This understanding enables you to make wiser choices about your own actions.

          2. Succinct Representation

Mathematics is an elegant language, efficient and full of meaning. For example, the single character π is customarily used to represent an infinite string of numbers. Mathematicians always strive for concise representation of ideas.

Simplicity, elegance, and efficiency are valuable to everyone. As a communicator, I deeply admire the language of mathematics and try to imitate it in my artistic works: I organize my words in a hopefully clear way, and delete unneeded material. Elegance follows from these.

          3. Diligence

Mathematics has taught me diligence like nothing else has. I’ve done enough problems now to know that there is always a solution to be found. (Teachers tend to avoid giving unsolvable problems, though it took me many years to finally believe that.) I want that solution, and if one technique doesn’t work, I’ll jolly well try another! And another. And another. And finally, I will get that solution.

          4. Confidence

From diligence and the repeated satisfaction of finally solving a hard problem all by yourself comes a confidence that can only be won through struggle. I know that I have the ability to solve hard problems, because I’ve seen my skills tested, and seen that I’m competent by an objective measure. Confidence translates into other areas of life.

          5. Beauty

Mathematics can be unspeakably beautiful—or horrendously ugly. Suffice it to say that math need not be sterile, boring, or grey. The patterns that live beneath the figures speak volumes to those that listen, and artists should take notice of this natural beauty.

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The Other Way to Learn

One ten-pound tripod. One canon camera. Too many variables to count, and two weeks before my professional video demo is due. I’m in over my head, but This, I tell myself, This is how you learn to make quality video. It’s like writing. Just go for it.

I’ve only just begun to realize that the times I’ll look back on as the most productive and educational are the times I’m most acutely aware of my own inadequacy. It’s not a pleasant feeling. But these times, when I know I’m not good enough or that I’m not up to the task at hand, are when I try my hardest to be that competent person I want to be and end up stretching towards my seemingly unreachable goal.

My video project is just a mild case of education by tribulation. I’ve had two courses by now that were trials almost every step of the way. In biology class I ended up memorizing more than I ever thought was possible. In history class, as I wrote my final paper, I knew I was missing important points but that I was incapable of seeing what they were. Both classes were deeply frustrating at times. Both gave me enormous satisfaction when I finally saw the A’s on my transcript.

It’s hard not to shy away from such experiences. To be sure, some aren’t worth the pain. But others are, and you only learn which is which by experimenting. I once said that the best kind of learning is the kind you don’t notice happening, and I still believe that. The other best kind is that which is the hardest won, that you’ll always rememember the fight you put up in order to get it.

Don’t shy away. Embrace the challenge. Take on something new, big or small, that you’ll remember.

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The Best Kind of Memorization

This morning, I had an animated discussion in math class with our professor about whether memorizing certain integrals (natural log in particular) is a good idea. The professor stated that it’s important to know the general steps of the process through which you can find a particular integral, and I agree. She also said something that really seemed counterintuitive to me.

“Why memorize when you can compute?”

From my point of view, the class had recently made sure to memorize (as instructed) an assortment of trig integrals and derivatives. We’ve begun to memorize calculus-style formulas for area. We memorize these because no one wants to reinvent the wheel.

From her point of view (as I understand it), it’s good to know how these derivatives, integrals, and formulas are derived—know where they come from. And it’s silly to try to memorize the solution to every specific multiplication problem (58×27 for example) when you can simply learn the general solution to all multiplication problems and thus understand the process.

But we still memorize the multiplication table. We’ve done those numbers so many times that we don’t have to think about them—most of them anyway. I suppose the reason the Professor and I had a little scuffle this morning is because she thought my integral was a 58×27, and I thought it was a 2×10.

In any event, I never meant to memorize the integral of natural log. It happened while I was looking the other way, engrossed in a puzzle of equations. That’s the best kind of memorization, the kind that lasts and that you don’t notice happening. It’s experiential, quite painless, and results in intuitive understanding.

There’s also one other “best” way to memorize, quite opposite to this approach, but that’s for another day.

Learning Like Ancient Greeks

I hear a lot of stories in history class, and one of them was this: There was once a successful student who graduated from our college and started his own small business. Feeling a duty to support his college community, this businessman began hiring graduates from our school. After a while though, something made him change his mind about our people. Today, this man refuses to hire technical graduates from his own school, for one and only one reason:

They can’t communicate. They can’t write, and they can’t convey the knowledge they have, which renders that knowledge useless.

Learn to write!” proclaimed my history professor, and then went on to tell us why the Ancient Greeks were the founders of abstract, scientific thought.

I had three years of competitive communication experience in high school. Debate was one of the most intensely educational experiences of my life. As it turns out, debate is also the agreed-upon reason why the Ancient Greeks were ahead of the curve when it came to scientific thought.

Greeks loved to debate politics. In Greece, you couldn’t just state your case—no one would listen. You had to defend it. You had to understand your arguments well enough to be capable of withstanding the fire of an opponent’s rebuttals. And you learned rhetoric, articulation, and eloquence along the way. Eventually, the Greeks moved on to debate other topics—like scientific theory. The rest is history.

I say we should learn like the Ancient Greeks. Debates should happen in our classrooms regularly. Competition brings out the best in people, and it becomes painfully obvious extremely fast when a debater doesn’t know their own case. Debate is the fastest way I know of to learn a topic inside and out, and as a side benefit, you learn to persuade an audience despite the fact that another human being is trying their hardest to undermine your case and credibility. That’s educational.

Oh, and for those who haven’t tried it, debate just happens to be one of the funnest things in the world.