As I walked out of grad school, diploma in hand, I swore I’d never be a student again. My two year program was plenty long enough to convince me that I was much better suited to the “real world” than to academia. You can hear the ridiculous childhood rhyme that was echoing in my head, right? “No more papers! No more books! No more teachers’ dirty looks!!”
In a shocking twist, it turns out that my 24-year-old self still had an awful lot to learn.
In the 24 years since, I’ve been a student nearly every day. I’ve studied the publishing industry, speech writing, the world of educational software, marketing, child-rearing, child-launching, religious and spiritual studies, a little about gardening and a lot about yoga. A whole lot about yoga. My studies have required me to read shelves and shelves of books, to do hours of online research, to compile and synthesize data from many different and divergent sources. I’ve spent hours taking notes. And even more hours writing papers, presentations and essays.
Every single area of study has taught me something that has translated into other areas of my life. I still refer to material I included in speeches I wrote for the president of a publishing house as a newly minted business person. I still lean heavily on the creative and innovative muscles I developed while working in the brand new industry of interactive software. Every Sunday I come home from church a little wiser. Lord knows, I’ve learned more from raising three kids than from any school or any professor I have ever had. Don’t even get me started on the yoga. (At least not yet.)
Abraham Lincoln once said,
I couldn’t have said it better myself. To study and to learn daily makes life an adventure to explore. When you’re in student mode, you are stretching, growing and challenging yourself. You continue to become a better … whatever! On the contrary, to stop studying or to assume that you have nothing left to learn is the most direct route I can think of to stagnation and boredom.
The moment I finished my thesis and thought to myself, there is not another thing I want or need to know about the agrarian nature of the Peruvian economy (honestly, don’t even ask), I was probably right. My mistake was to think that just because I was all done learning about the economics of developing countries, that I was all done learning.
What I had lost sight of as a professional student, is that being a student is fun, exciting and invigorating. In my quest to finally know “enough” (to graduate), I lost sight of the fact that not knowing is a much more desirable position. Not knowing allows you to think, to dream, to explore, to experiment, to consider, to question, to change and to grow. Knowing? Well, when you think you know it all, that’s all you know.
This weekend I was lucky to attend a three day workshop with a yoga teacher I’ve always wanted to meet. I’ve read his book countless times. I’ve watched every DVD he’s published. I’ve spent 13 years practicing the kind of yoga he teaches. I teach this same yoga nearly every day. It would have been easy to assume I knew “enough.” In fact, more than one person asked me, “Why on earth are you choosing to spend three whole (weekend!!) days listening to someone talk about what you already know?”
The answer is easy. I don’t think I will ever know “enough.” Hearing his story was powerful and, somehow, shed a new light on my own. Listening to him share the wisdom he learned from his teacher gave me a new understanding and a new perspective on the practice we share. Yes, he taught some postures in a way that left me thinking, “I knew that already.” Still, it was nice to have that knowledge reinforced and affirmed. There were also a few postures that he approached entirely differently than I do. Does that mean he’s right and I’m wrong? I don’t know yet. I need to play around with what he taught me for a little while.
Let’s just say, it was a great three days. I came home happily full and tired – body, mind and spirit. As I listened to myself teach this week, I could see the gifts of being a student. My language changed a little. My suggestions in certain postures shifted. I felt energized by a desire to share all that I had learned. And, as I watched my students respond to these new ideas, I learned even more. What a happy, endless cycle it is to learn and to teach!
Today, as I continue to walk through the school of life (on and off my mat) without a diploma or a graduation date in sight, I solemnly swear that I will never NOT be a student. And, as an addendum to this vow, I pledge to embrace with open arms and an open mind every single instant that I’m graced with the chance to learn a little more about living. What do you say? Would you like to join me?