(Listen to the audio version of this on iTunes)
I was a prolific reader when I was a kid. In elementary school, they used to give you these coupons for free pizza if you read required books. You’d sit at what are now considered archaic computers and answer multiple choice questions to prove you had. When all was finished, you’d have a button and coupon for a pan pizza. I would have read them without the coupon, but incentive via pan crust? C’mon.
At that age, I started having trouble confusing my letters and my hands would get tired when writing. I’d leave words out of sentences. I had a problem with pronouncing things and remembering names and dates. It wasn’t anything on the level of needing special help; I was still an AG student and did the best I could, but I had problems with phonics and other circumstances took me away from an A+ life.
I was 14 and sitting on a window sill in the bathroom of an annex building at my school. I was smoking Newports and reading Lord Of The Flies. A girl came into the bathroom and glared at me. She had on a faded purple top, long brown hair which had never seen the likes of a dye bottle or sheers, and this, “I hate life and everyone in it, but cats are cool,” demeanor. She kept staring at me, so I said, “You want one?” The one in this instance being a cigarette.
She said, “I’m a teacher. You have to come to the office with me now.”
I got up slowly and smirking because she was offended I didn’t note her authority. I said, “Fuck. I mean you do look really young.” She didn’t say anything. When we were walking, I asked, “What do you teach?” She said, “Physical Science.”
I wasn’t upset about being in trouble. The school had already told me there was no way I could pass the year and it was only October. In our district (or maybe they just said this) you couldn’t miss but so many days of school regardless of how well you did on the tests. It didn’t matter to them the reasons why I was absent or the complexities of the real world. I could pass the tests; they just wouldn’t let me take them.
So I went to school to hang out and see my friends or to use the library. I wasn’t expelled, yet. There was this unspoken agreement at the time that if I didn’t cause trouble, they would look the other way. This teacher didn’t know that. She was new and young so she marched me up to the office and I promptly turned around and walked back out.
From an early age, I had to assign my own curriculum. The problem with doing everything on your own—reading on your own, learning on your own—is you don’t have, well, teachers, and the great thing about doing everything on your own is you don’t have, well, teachers.
There comes a point in which you have to acknowledge two important thoughts:
1. Think for yourself
2. Ask for help
I obviously didn’t have a problem thinking for myself. Not only do I believe it’s important, but I find it necessary to live an authentic life. If we don’t question our teachers, our parents, or our leaders, we will live blindly.
At the same time, I missed crucial and far easier routes to a final or even starting destination because I didn’t have guides. Something as simple as having words said out loud around you makes the world an easier place, let alone the path of knowledge or experience.
I was on a podcast once and was asked what I was currently reading. I can’t remember what I said specifically, but I do remember talking about Noam Chomsky, a linguistics expert and brilliant writer who studies our world and, at times, the words we speak in it.
I said his name wrong. I said his name wrong. A brilliant celebrated expert in the field of linguistics. Oh, the irony.
I don’t remember exactly how I pronounced it. Maybe it was one of those times I decided to add extra syllables because I have a tendency to do that. The truth is, I said his name wrong because while I knew how to say it technically, I had only heard it a said out loud once or twice and it wasn’t imprinted in my brain. It takes a while for me to get proper names in my head. Geography is so phonically fun.
Nonetheless, there it is, on a recording I can’t edit for (thankfully) little of the world to hear because it’s a small internet moment.
There have been and will be many other moments I fumble. My life wasn’t just on a learning curve; it was traveling that curve almost entirely alone. I worked for myself, learned for myself, myself, myself. Me. Me. Me.
We need checks and balances in life, internal affairs, and evaluators. We can’t do it all by ourselves, nor is it wise to try. At the rate my brain processes and takes in information, I could be far more advanced in many skills. I could play music better, train better, read better, learn better, grow better, love better, better, better, better.
One of life’s goals should be to find the most efficient route possible to our objectives. After all, time isn’t in abundance. Yet for some reason, we constantly travel the most difficult routes. We only go to the doctor when we are sick. We spend thousands on trinkets while grumbling over education costs. We get angry when a path to a dream has a price, but isn’t that a price worth paying?
How often do we wish our dreams could be bought or automatically materialize? Sure, most dreams are abstract or faith fulfillment intertwining with the distant webs of our reality. But some dreams, some of them, are touchable; we feel the vibrations of their closeness pulsating through our bodies. Why would you not pay to get closer? Why would you not hire the mentor, buy the course, travel the pavement, or risk the journey if possibility rests on the other side?
What is the payment? Is it always money or does it come in the form of fear or pride resting on your tongue asking for a favor and fearing rejection? No amount of life’s dreams, education, or goals should slip away because you convince yourself you don’t deserve the teaching. It’s never too late to learn but often that’s not the problem; the problem is too many people convince themselves they are too old or proud to be a student.
Don’t be a miser to your dreams. Be a student—you will learn something.
Read the book, hire the mentor, go on the trip, take the leap, and ask for help from people who are closer to where you want to be. Think for yourself yes, but learn from history and embrace the art of being the forever student even if that means asking for someone’s hand.