I’m working through What Color is Your Parachute? this week, because I’m going to graduate in May and it seems like a sensible thing to scrounge around for extra clarity before panicking about licensure exams, transitioning into a completely new field, and probably moving to a new city.

And it’s something to do besides review the structure and purpose of the lymphatic system yet again for Monday’s test. I’m nothing if not a productive procrastinator!

I’m on Step 2 of the flower exercise, in which you examine the knowledge that you already have and identify what you want to use in your life and work.

There’s a handy little chart with five columns to fill in all the random bits of knowledge that you’ve acquired over the years from

  • studying in school
  • learning on the job
  • conferences, workshops, and seminars
  • learning at home through reading, the internet, etc.
  • your hobbies and volunteer work

Then you put them in a lovely little matrix, identifying

  1. Subjects for which you have lots of enthusiasm AND expertise.
  2. Subjects for which you have lots of enthusiasm but little expertise.
  3. Subjects for which you have little enthusiasm but lots of expertise.
  4. Subjects for which you have little enthusiasm or expertise.

Clearly, those from category #4 will not have much of a place in your dream life/career.

So here’s where it gets interesting.

Nearly everything in category #1 (like blogging, grassroots community development, and windowsill gardening) was gained from volunteer work and hobbies.

Nearly everything in category #2 (like urban agriculture and education reform) was gained through reading and the internet.

Nearly everything in category #3 (like Ohio childcare licensing regulations, oh joy!) was gained on the job.

Nearly everything from category #4 (MLA guidelines for writing papers, Mohs Hardness Scale) was gained in school.

There were, of course, notable exceptions. I’m a massage therapy student right now, and I’m learning all kinds of useful things that I actually enjoy using too. But since I’m learning by giving massages as well as by studying my butt off, this has effectively become a part of my volunteer work.

Some parts of my work (past and present) have become things I adore. Writing newsletters, public speaking, and keeping portfolios to document children’s learning and development? I’d do them for free, given the time. The first two I have done as a volunteer, although I originally learned them on the job.

Reading seems to be an intermediate stage for me. Many times I read about a subject before involving it actively in my personal life. Veganism was like that, and walking for fitness, and growing my own kitchen herbs. Other topics I study compulsively for a time, then let them fade into the background static of my general knowledge to called on only at parties with well-read people I want to impress.

But despite these, the pattern stands:

  1. I learn best by doing what I like.
  2. I learn passibly by doing what I don’t like.
  3. I learn a little by reading about what I like.
  4. I learn almost nothing by reading about what I don’t like.

Somehow, I doubt this is an isolated pattern.

I don’t regret: dropping out of college, moving to new places, painting half a dozen murals, working at low-paying pink collar jobs, dumping too much apple cider vinegar into food, hanging around smart people in coffeeshops, blogging my evenings away, trying my hand at stand-up comedy, volunteering as a safe sex education teacher, competing in poetry slams, learning over 150 kids’ songs by heart, hosting tea parties (the kind with actual tea and biscuits, not the political rallies), or exploring Adventureland. How could I regret the fabulous education I’ve received?

But I do regret that my “good” school district provided me with little more than a babysitting service, a very basic understanding of grammar, the (truly appreciated!) opportunity to play in an orchestra, and a bad attitude.

Maybe we need more Parachute in the classroom, and less force-feeding.

But what do I know? It’s not like I’m an expert. I don’t even have a higher education.