Monday Postcard #168 – Lifelong Learning
I have a confession to make: As a child, I loved going to school. I even enjoyed writing exams. Yes, probably I am weird. But I just always enjoyed studying. In addition to the popular extracurricular activities like sports and music (in which I also participated), I did extra classes: history, French, Spanish, Italian, coding. I guess I have always been really curious and eager to learn new things. Some people invest all their time in their soccer or basketball team. I love to study and read books. Call me a nerd, I can live with it.
In my last year of high school, I did not really know what I wanted to study after. I thought about fashion design but had to admit to myself that I was probably not gifted enough to compete with all the great young talents out there. As I have also always loved art, I briefly thought about art history but decided against it. At that point in time the career perspectives were really limited. By the time I left high school, I spoke three languages fluently (German, English, French) and was a beginner in Italian and Spanish. Why not languages then? But I never saw myself as a teacher or translator either. Hence, I decided to visit a career fair in the hope of getting some good advice.
This visit did not turn out very successful. When I tried to talk to a law graduate from the university of Vienna, she yelled: “Don’t study law, you will end up like me at a career fair talking to pupils!” That was probably not the best representative the university could have chosen. I moved on to other counters but I ended up picking up totally unnecessary brochures – surfing in Hawaii, for example. (It actually was a brochure by the university but I only took it because surfing and Hawaii was the first thing that came to my teenage mind.)
The A-levels approached and I still had no idea what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to attend university and I was really keen on keeping on studying. After the exams, I decluttered my room (already one of my favourite activities then). I found the bag of brochures from the career fair. I threw all of them away, except the last one: a combined programme of Business Administration and languages. I did not think too much about it, it sounded interesting and the job perspectives were OK. Therefore, the week after, I ended up enrolling for the course.
It was one of the toughest things I have ever done. The first year, I basically only studied. I started at 7 am and stopped at 8 pm, Monday to Friday. It was the first time in my life I hated studying. That first year was basically a test if you could study multiple books with over a thousand pages, memorize hundreds of example questions and do not lose your nerves during exam week.
For me, the biggest issue was that I found most of the things I had to study really boring. I secretly regretted not signing up for art history. My mum encouraged me to also enroll for Art History and do both courses in parallel – which is possible in Austria. But this would have meant that I “lost” time during my business studies. I had signed up for the business “hamster wheel” where we were taught that we had to be the best, the fastest, the hardest working every single day. I thought I simply did not have time to study anything else but business.
If I start something, I aim to finish it. And I want to be good at it. Hence, I did not give up and graduated four years later. I even did a doctorate afterwards – in Business as well. As it turned out, the classes and content got much more interesting after the first three really tough semesters. I found a really good job in Finance right after graduating. But the whole time, I thought something was missing.
Naturally, because of the “hamster wheel” at university and later on in my job, I had forgotten why I had enjoyed studying. I felt that I was never challenged enough and that my creativity was useless for most of the projects I had to do at work. I remember a coaching session I attended where they told me I was actually “too creative” for my job… I thought it was probably normal. Only when I started my app business did I realise what was missing.
The business forced me to tap into new areas and teach myself new things – from photography and videography, to Photoshop, to flow charts for app development, to so many other things. I signed up for online courses and webinars. And because I was already in the study flow, I also started to attend art history seminars – years after I first played with the idea of enrolling in Art History. These seminars were the only way I could relax and forget about the business.
Especially since the start of the pandemic, I have appreciated the benefit of lifelong learning even more. Illustration webinars and art history seminars keep me from going down the negative spiral. I am really glad I currently need to write papers about topics which are completely unrelated to the pandemic – the influence of Japan on French fashion is one of them. I close the door and open the books and I am off to a completely different world.
To me, “lifelong learning” does not sound like a threat. I do not see it as something I am forced to do. I see it as a privilege. I am in the fortunate position that I can learn as many new things as I want. Of course, there will be topics which may be more interesting than others. But I hope that the future will open up many more doors letting me escape to new adventures.
What about you? Do you enjoy studying? Or what have you been doing to get your mind off the pandemic?