a busy time of year

It’s been a busy year this year, I’ve been incredibly prolific in terms of doing what I essentially see as self-development work. Beginning to see the light as to what a future as an academic might hold for me. It is both a frightening amount of work, and also incredibly exciting. The opportunity to become someone who might be able to both engender new ideas in people, as well as to develop new ideas of my own in the context of learning and research is excellent. I love it. I want to do it for the foreseeable future. The chance to collaborate with people whose intelligence I respect and admire is something I’m enjoying doing now, and hope to do for the rest of my life.

Which brings me to the fact that I’m recognizing an increasing need to upskill myself as an educator, and potential academic. There is a lot to do if I expect to be able to continue to discuss the artforms of cinema, games, and literature, as well as to be able to educate myself to a doctoral level in the concerns of media and communication, Marxism, the autonomists, and political philosophy in general. As someone who is intimidated by the skills, knowledge, and intelligence of those encountered in reading groups, workshops and seminars, I recognize that the near-pastoral educational environment of my old institution is a combination of both idyllic low-stakes country bliss, with very little in terms of opportunities both within the institution itself, as well as its ability to provide opportunities elsewhere. In other words, I’ve been doing a lot, and have a lot left to do.

invest in loss

This is the second of the ideas I’ve borrowed from martial arts: “you must invest in loss”. What does this mean? It means that any rejections and failures should be understood as opportunities to improve. A failure doesn’t mean you’ve failed absolutely, cataclysmically, and for all time, and that you should give up now, it means that you have an identifiable weakness that you can improve upon so that your next attempt is better. In terms of education, this means that, if you have done poorly in a particular assessment, take the opportunity to work out what it is, exactly, that you’ve done wrong. This may mean reading over depressing assessment notes from tutors or academics, but the notes are there to help you improve. It’s difficult to give bad feedback to a student – it genuinely makes me feel bad – but I’d do student a disservice if I gave them marks that they hadn’t earnt. If they were to make repeat mistakes, it’s in their best interest for me to identify them. The worst possible response from a student is to receive their assignment back, get depressed or angry because of a result that’s less than what they wanted or what they expected, and then never read the feedback! I, or whoever, wrote that material to help you improve! It’s not there because I really wanted to make you feel bad.

Investing in loss also means directly placing yourself out of your comfort zone. This is something I’ve had to learn for public speaking. I’m getting better at it because I challenge myself when I do it. For me this means knowing that, to some extent, I’m going to suck at a particular presentation, but I do it in the knowledge that I’ll be better at it over time. I’ve already improved remarkably in the last 12 months, and am far better than I used to be two years ago. Put yourself at risk, accept defeat, but learn from the experience.

a wise man once said…

In the few years of martial arts that I’ve done, there have been a few lessons that I’ve taken away that are, I think, useful to thinking about education. Some of them have uncomfortable levels of orientalist overtones, but you can judge for yourself whether the content is worthwhile.

The first is “don’t go to treasure mountain and come away with stones” – perhaps an obvious idea. The concept is essentially that, given the opportunity for an education, do not squander it. There will, undoubtedly, be people around you who, on one level or another, will be at treasure mountain and only grab the stones, or only see stones. Yes, have fun, drink, socialize, do drugs, get high, get in fights, spend your life on Reddit, or playing games or whatever you feel constitutes being a young adult, but these are not the reason that you’re at university. You’re at university for your education. In order to see the treasure that you’re offered, you have to realize the stones for what they are: perhaps something good to sit on, but they’re a burden to carry away. That doesn’t mean, ‘don’t have fun’, it means, don’t make fun the reason that you’re here, with your educational experiences as the secondary precept. You don’t have to be at school to have fun, but without a massive amount of dedication you can only get qualifications and, hopefully, a critical education at educational institutions.