Learning Through Commitment

Thanks to eschipul on Flickr for making this photo available for use.

In this recent article written to new college graduates, Caty Borum Chattoo provides six pretty nice pieces of advice. The first seems most significant to me – it’s about the great potential of personal commitment. Though this certainly applies to new grads, even more so I think it applies to all of us engaged in learning, creating, discovering, and growing. Here it is (bold and color added for emphasis):

 (1) At the moment of commitment, the entire world conspires to assure your success.
(This was paraphrased by Norman [Lear], but originally thought to have originated from the philosopher Goethe.)
With a surface-level read, this may seem obvious and potentially overused — as in, work hard and it will all work out for you. But to me, understanding this bit of philosophy in a deep, internalized way only came with age and experience. When Norman first said this to me, I remember thinking that the key to this mantra was the “world conspiring” part of it — the thought that the world owed me success. But not only is this not the key idea, it misses the entire point. What I came to learn, through the messiness that comes from large and small professional decisions, is that the key is the commitment piece, which has everything to do with your own active engagement in your own life, pursuits and passions. At the moment in which you truly commit to a project, an idea, a version of yourself, you may find the world lining up in ways that allows the success to happen — you meet people who make connections, you have a conversation with someone who tells you the exact thing you needed to hear, you find a partner with whom to collaborate, and on and on. In my own still-evolving professional life, I have encountered the most amazing moments of a world conspiring — but only when I was fully, honestly engaged, with the kind of commitment that is felt deeply when no one else is around to see or validate.

I have experienced this same phenomena. When I fully commit to something, everything seems to line up. But it’s not “everything” doing that — it’s me doing that. There is an inexplicable energy that comes with such a commitment.

Right now I am exploring a new project, a potentially big and risky one. When I am ready to commit — and if I am, I must fully commit — I believe I will make it so. It might fail, and it might fail gloriously, but in that I will have committed to it, I will have also committed to learning with, through, and from it, regardless of the outcome.  It’s a refreshing perspective because it can eliminate some of the apprehension and fear that sometimes act as back-seat drivers.

I also wonder if this is where the construct of faith comes from — there is a leap of faith that is involved with such commitments. Because really – are we ever 100% certain something will work out? My quotient of certainty increases as my commitment increases.

PS: The Goethe Society of North America has more about this original quote, HERE. It’s a good read.



This is a picture of my kid with his bike at the age of 3 and 11/12 months:

This is a more recent picture of him with his new bike at the age of 4 and 30 seconds:

Some pretty major things needed to happen to get from picture #1 to picture #2. For example, in our family:

  • Four year-olds need to be able to put on their own socks.
  • Four year-olds need to make their beds when they get up in the morning.
  • Four year-olds need to take their plates to the kitchen after they are done eating.
  • Four year-olds, for goodness sake, need to feed themselves!!!

That’s right. We instituted milestones.

Milestones are constructed to provide reference points along the road. This can be used to reassure travelers that the proper path is being followed, and to indicate either distance traveled or the remaining distance to a destination. ~Wikipedia

Milestones, in this way, promote learning and help us assess how well we are doing toward a learning outcome. In the world of educational assessment, we call milestones a kind of “formative assessment.”

In my family, it’s what got us sanely from three to four.

Ok, ok, in all fairness, we really created milestones so to preserve what’s left of our parental sanity, but we also wanted the kid to have a goal (being four), to work toward something significant and important (and I quote, “Mama, I fed myself my dinner all by myself; now I can be four!”), and to have a sense of accomplishment when he got there.

The payoff for reaching these milestones? Well, not only did the kid actually turn four (which frankly seemed significant enough to all of us), but he also got that new bike in picture #2.

And guess what! To prove to us that he had in fact turned four, he ate 2 pieces of this birthday cake!

All by himself!

What About Jeans On Mondays?

Why have I not written in PrattleNog lately?

Um, work-life balance. (Alas, I’ve written about *that* before.)

Why am I posting now?

Because TED posted a video with Nigel March about work-life balance that I want to share. Marsh’s main message is comprised of these key points:

  • Achieving work-life balance is up to each of us.
  • Wearing jeans on Fridays will not accomplish it.
  • If you don’t design your life, someone else will design it for you.
  • Make small changes.
  • Take your kid to the park and then to get pizza. (Ok, that’s not really a main message, but I like it anyway.)

Watch more; learn:

My Third And Final Major Was English

David Brooks has written an Op-Ed piece in The New York Times called History for Dollars in which he advocates for studying the humanities, and it has me nogging.

Thanks to quinn.anya on Flickr for making this image available.

Brooks argues that studying the humanities will make a person more employable because they will be able to read and write well, will deeply understand human emotion, can think analogically, and can “befriend” what he calls “The Big Shaggy,” behaviors and phenomena that are difficult to explain. Of the latter, Brooks writes:

The observant person goes through life asking: Where did that come from? Why did he or she act that way? The answers are hard to come by because the behavior emanates from somewhere deep inside The Big Shaggy.

Technical knowledge stops at the outer edge. If you spend your life riding the links of the Internet, you probably won’t get too far into The Big Shaggy either, because the fast, effortless prose of blogging (and journalism) lacks the heft to get you deep below.

But over the centuries, there have been rare and strange people who possessed the skill of taking the upheavals of thought that emanate from The Big Shaggy and representing them in the form of story, music, myth, painting, liturgy, architecture, sculpture, landscape and speech. These men and women developed languages that help us understand these yearnings and also educate and mold them. They left rich veins of emotional knowledge that are the subjects of the humanities.

I object to his implication that blogs “lack the heft” of critical thought and inquiry, but I have to agree with almost every other proposition of his editorial. Let me tell you why.

My first major in college was journalism. I had spent the previous 3 years in high school tirelessly advocating for Freedom Of The Press and a separation of advertising and editorial (my main objective being to convince the school administrators that placing a Planned Parenthood ad in the student newspaper paper was not an endorsement for having sex). It made perfect sense that I would be a journalism major: I had prior experience on the newspaper and yearbook, passion, and it could be practical. I could get a job.

My second major was speech pathology and audiology. I changed it from journalism about a month into college because I decided I wanted to try to do something different from what I had been doing. It wasn’t an analytical decision at the time; it was more like wanderlust meets “I want to be employable after graduation.”

I liked this new major because I was learning in multiple disciplines: anatomy, language development and linguistics, psychology, neurology, etc. We also got to look at cadavers, which was scary and horrifying and amazing, all at the same time. However, in my first session in the speech clinic, when a distraught but forceful mother of a child with a bilateral lisp was insistent that we “FIX HIM!!!” in time for a speech he had to give at his church, my clinical supervisor turned to me and said, “Welcome to your future.” An off-the-cuff comment, but I listened.

My third and final major was English because I liked to write and I liked to read, and I didn’t want to spend time taking courses that I didn’t like. I temporarily set aside my pragmatic paycheck-oriented concerns and decided to focus on learning. And with that came great freedom and deep engagement and, as Brooks argues and I fully believe, marketability.

I have applied lessons from my English courses — from all of those Australian novels and Middle English Prologues and poems and essays and tree structures and Latin roots —  to every aspect of my work. From supervising and supporting employees, to preparing and monitoring budgets, to writing grants, to giving presentations to friendly and challenging audiences, to teaching and mentoring, to learning new computer programs or programming my voice mail, to communicating with various stakeholders and advocating with fierce grace, I call upon my English major skills and capacities of mind each and every day.

Brooks implies that there is money associated with a humanities education; I suspect that might be true (it has not been, for me). But what I DO have is compassion, creativity, energy, communication, and, in general, happiness with what I can and like to do.

My third and final major was English.  And as for The Big Shaggy? I’ll continue to nog on it, with heft (eh hem!), because, as Brooks asks:

…doesn’t it make sense to spend some time in the company of these languages — learning to feel different emotions, rehearsing different passions, experiencing different sacred rituals and learning to see in different ways?

Yes. Yes it does.

This Is The Best Road

Dear Students,

Look at this picture.

"Internal or external" from Indexed

Does this speak to you?

If you are like many adult learners in higher education, you may still be trying to figure out what you want to be when you grow up. You may feel that you have traveled many roads already, and you still don’t have a good sense of direction.  Sound familiar? (It’s ok – you can admit it. We’re all in the same boat here.)

If so, then the road you are on — the road of being a student, a learner — is certainly one of the best you could have chosen.

This road is the direction.

Sure, there are a few potholes and speed bumps, and there will probably be a stop sign or two that will slow you down, and of course you’ll need to merge once or twice, and there may not be a great map or clearly marked street signs.

But this is the best road to be on.  Keep walking!



This Could Have Been At Marylhurst

Remember back a few posts ago when I said that sometimes we need help to learn? And it’s true that most times, as adults, we don’t want to ask for it.  Which is silly, right? Right?!


Well, a student shared this video with our Mentoring and Peer Coaching class last night.  She thought it nicely represented many of the concepts that we’ve been studying this term — that to learn, we can benefit from a coach, a cheerleader, some outside help, some more outside help, scaffolding, feedback, support, more support, and ultimately, we will be able to do it on our own.  Success!

I couldn’t agree more!

Plus, this could have been at Marylhurst:

Marylhurst Squirrel Entering BP John Lobby (1 of 1,000,000)

With Intention

As some of you who read this blog know, I practice yoga (and have written about my practice here and here). I emphasize the word practice because it’s ongoing, and I don’t think in yoga you’re actually supposed to get to “perfect” (a concept most yogis I know disregard vehemently, for all sorts of good reasons).

Thanks to Tony George on Flickr for making this image available.

Today, in my yoga class, the instructor talked about setting our intentions for the class — what did we intend to do, to focus on, in the next 90 minutes? And I was thinking about how the word “intentions ” is such a better way to think about “things I want to achieve” instead of the word goals. It implies process, it implies practice, and it does not imply this ubiquitous concept of perfection.

I have goals that I want to achieve in yoga — for example, someday I really would like to be strong and flexible enough to do a back bend — but for each class I like the idea of thinking of my intention for that time, on that day, given everything else that’s happening (sore knee, a bit tired, etc.).

A goal implies an end point — something fixed that we are aiming for. It also implies that it’s possibly external to us. An intention, on the other hand, is all about us — what we intend to do to move toward something. If you state your intention, it’s YOUR intention — YOU have to do something. It requires action on your part. If you state a goal, you may be relying on external forces to help you achieve it.

So how does this apply to adult learners in higher education? Well, I propose that we start thinking more about intentions; doing so will serve us as learners better in the long run because we will be in charge, and we will have to act.

Example Goals: I want to learn about X. OR – I want to be a better writer. OR – I want a new job as a Muckity Muck.

Example Intentions: I intend, in this class, to learn what I can about X. OR – I intend, in this term, to  improve my academic writing skills. OR – I intend to interview a person who is a Muckity Muck so I can learn about what it will take to be a Muckity Muck.

I am not proposing that we do away with goals entirely — identifying an end point can be helpful to measure our progress and to feel like we’ve accomplished something once we get there. I am proposing, however, that we also consider intentions — what can I do now to help me move along the continuum toward that goal? To help with my practice of being a learner?

I encourage you to think about what your intentions are for this coming class / week / term / assignment. The goal may be to get an A or to learn about Project Management or for goodness sake to graduate — but what do you intend to learn? What actions will you take? What will you do?