For 16 years my life has been structured around a school calendar. Now I am free floating, unrestrained and undefined.
I moved to a new city (free rent thanks to my gracious brother and sister-in-law), don’t have a job (by choice), and have no clue where I will be three months from now (I have ideas, just no evidence to justify decisions yet). The typical question I’ve gotten for months now is “What’s next?”
If I’m not hangry or tired I will reply with a polite explanation of the many random tasks on my plate right now (part time publicity work for an author, studying for the GRE, reading copiously, planning a trip to Sweden in September, questioning my life plans). But if I am in a rush or don’t feel like blubbering to a stranger I often reply “I’m not doing too much, just trying to relax while I can.”
Although this definitely doesn’t incorporate everything, it is a simplified truth that I return to. Rest is NOT something I was taught how to do in my lifetime of schooling. So now I’m trying to embrace the somewhat lazy-river of post-grad life, even when I’m splashing around in a panic thinking I’m drowning in that river. To be clear, I’m not drowning. I just don’t know how to relax well or what it means to not be a student anymore.
When I first started this blog a couple years ago, I spent a long time thinking about what its focus would be. Thanks to my indecisive nature I decided on a more general vision: the elements of life that define us, and what it means to step outside of those boundaries. It developed from a soap box I’ve carried for a long time–the injustice we all experience when we are put into boxes that don’t accurately define who we are.
For 13 years I defined myself as a dancer, and when that definition was no longer an option I floated in an ocean of identity that ebbed and flowed in stormy seas until I finally found a shore to land on. I then found myself outraged at how our culture had defined other things like men, women, love, Christians, and success. I am still working on redefining those things for myself outside the boundaries of cultural norms.
Now that I have graduated from college–the culmination of 16 years defined as a student within the boundaries of public and private educational systems, school calendars, and grade point averages–I must again redefine a significant part of my life.
It was Socrates, one of the first educators, who said that “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” My opinions on the educational system are better left for a separate post, but for now I will say that I am incredibly grateful for the teachers who kindled the love of learning in me. However, despite their hard work, I don’t doubt I was simultaneously filling my vessel of self-worth with my status as a student.
I will always be a student, but the last two months have reminded me what it means to learn outside of classrooms and libraries. Learning is one of our greatest privileges; it is a freedom that can only be lost through individual apathy. As Frederick Douglass, Helen Keller, and countless others have shown us–learning is something we must chase after, redefine in whatever way works for our situation, and embrace whole-heartedly in order to truly succeed.
As I float through this uncharted territory I must constantly remind myself that my identity is NOT as a student chasing the grade, but instead as a student chasing the world where grades don’t matter and learning is the fire that sustains my life. This is the time to throw out the vessel altogether, if only to prevent myself from filling it up with a worthless job of climbing ladders. Vessels fill up eventually and reach a point of satisfaction, but a fire must be kindled and fed daily so that we are always learning. The point of life is not to reach a filling point, but to sustain the deeper fire which fuels a life beyond the boundaries of ordinary living.
I am now a student without a syllabus in a classroom without constraints. Although it can be scary at times, I’m trying to focus on the horizon, lighting my fire to get me through the darker nights. God’s mercies are new every morning, and hope arrives when I remember I’ve hopped the fence into a brand new world to explore. At that point I kick back and embrace wherever the river takes me.
What did you learn when you stopped having to go to school?
How has your identity as a learner been formed?