Being a teacher, at least for the time being, gives me the opportunity to in a way also be a student again. I live at a high school, and therefore I not only teach the students, I also eat with them, see them during breaks and hang out with them after classes. I observe how their daily life is structured, what challenges they are facing and what their priorities are. Even though I am 26 now, I basically live the life of a 16-year old high school student again.
Learning as full-time job
The one main difference I noticed between their lives and mine is that they learn ALL DAY LONG! And by that I don’t necessarily mean study. Yes, most of their days consists of classes and then later doing homework for those classes. But during the study breaks, they are playing football and learn how to get better at that. And during lunch or dinner, they talk English with me and improve in that area. These students go to bed literally every single night knowing that they have become better than they were the day before.
It is scary for me to realize that many of my days on the other hand are not at all like that. I have no one forcing me to learn. If I don’t push myself, if I don’t make the conscious decision to better myself, it is very easy to go through the day without improving in any area. I can teach things that I learned 10 years ago, speak a language that I also mastered a long time ago, and fill my free time with reading Facebook posts of people that I don’t even care about. And I don’t think this is an uncommon way to spend a day at the age of 26.
Learning is what gets you ahead
But even among those high school students, you can see vast differences. I teach twelve different classes and teach all of them the same content. Some classes have very bright students, but they are lazy, spoiled, and don’t pay attention. Other classes however have students that might not be the most talented ones, but they are quiet, attentive and eager to learn. They hang on my lips, ready to absorb every little piece of knowledge. And the progress that those classes are making is HUGE! It is almost scary! While the classes with the maybe brighter, but not dedicated students are falling further and further behind, the other classes are developing momentum that takes them much further than they ever thought was possible. They can’t get enough of learning! And I can see the gap between those different classes widening every week.
Those students are still very young, most of them are just 12 or 13 years old and they can still change their attitude. But imagine if they don’t. Imagine where the studious ones are in their lives when they are 20, 30, 40 or 50, compared to the lazy ones. Imagine the gap widening further and further! Imagine all the growth the lazy ones would miss out on, all the knowledge, all the experiences!
I noticed that pattern while observing my students and when I had a long good look at myself, I noticed that I too was more and more drifting towards being one of the lazy ones. I had stopped pushing my limits and while I was still growing in certain areas of my life (after all, I am still young), I didn’t make a real commitment to that growth. I merely used it as an alibi.
Make learning a priority
That is why I let my high school students inspire me to step it up! I shifted my focus back on learning and developing myself and made that a PRIORITY in my life rather than something I merely do every once in a while when I’m bored and have nothing better to do.
- I started doing sports every day
- I committed to writing this blog every week
- I read a lot more (10 books in the last 7 weeks)
- I study Swedish and Chinese as often as possible
- I try to better my teaching and public speaking skills with every lesson I give
Those are all habits that are in alignment with the values and goals that I have. They are not that time-consuming and still leave opportunities to do other activities throughout the day. But they add up over time, they slowly build momentum, and gradually improve me in areas of my life that are important to me.
It is a crucial mistake to see learning as something that you do during school or college and then can abandon once you start working. People tend to make that priority shift and pay the price for it in the long run. I was painfully reminded of that. So Commit to lifelong learning and make it a PRIORITY! Fuck the status quo, fuck your past accomplishments, if you’re not growing right here and now, you’re declining! Or, in the words of Chuck Palahniuk:
May I never be complete. May I never be content. May I never be perfect.
If you are never complete or content, there is no reason to ever slow down!