May 21, 2008

4 Things I've Learned Since College (and 4 Things I Haven't)

After last week's terribly abstract and label-ridden post, I knew I had to come back with something more entertaining (and shorter!) this week. Something light and easy on the brain. Something with a sizzle that begs to be read (or clicked on). Something like... a countdown! Yes, we've all seen this gimmick: The top 6 signs you should leave your job, the nation's 8 most affordable housing markets, the top 10 things couples fight about, 5 must-reads for your summer book list, the top 25 power ballads of all time. The 7 habits of this, 10 steps to that. I'll even admit to noticing "5 tips to a great smile" on a prominent website's homepage today! (Note: I provided that link not because the article is worth reading, but to prove that I'm not kidding.)

Five years ago this month, I graduated from Wheaton College. Many things have changed in my life since then, with marriage, fatherhood and losing my dad being the most monumental. Where I live, who my friends are and what I do for a living are all very different than what I could have imagined as I wore my cap and gown that day. Wedding plans, housing arrangements and job applications have been replaced by diaper changing, bedtime stories and blogging if there's time. Although much has changed, much has not. I still love the smell of a brand new book. I still have more sports trivia in my brain than I know what to do with. I still prefer stick-shifts over automatics. It's still a struggle to purge the magazine rack of old issues. I still dream of living in a foreign country someday.

So what did my mid-twenties teach me? Well, 7 jobs, 6 cars, 5 cell phones, 4 computers, 3 churches, 2 car seats and 1 baby grand piano later, it seems appropriate to take an inventory of the "education" I've received after leaving the classroom. Here are 4 things I've learned since college:

1. Fun is not the same thing as satisfaction. As an undergrad, my litmus test for choosing a major and a career was always, "Is it fun?" If it wasn't fun, why would I study it? Why would I want to do it 40 hours a week as a job? In a nutshell, that was why I majored in communication with a concentration in broadcast journalism. That was why I worked crazy hours at Wheaton College Radio, WETN- FM 88, home of Wheaton Thunder Sports, "connecting you to the college and community." Doing football and basketball play-by-play was the best job on campus and I loved every touchdown, 3-pointer and last minute comeback victory I had the chance to describe on the air. Besides, what other major could boast course titles like Radio and TV Announcing, Interpersonal Communication and Audio Production II? A news internship at WGN Radio seemed like a step closer to my dream of a "fun" job, but it also exposed me to the complex world of politics, economics and social inequality. When we moved away from Chicago's massive media market to the 'hang loose' confines of Hawaii, priorities changed and I found myself somehow working in the social services field, counseling welfare recipients and listening to their perspective from the underbelly of society. Creating a résumé for someone with a shoddy work history is not "fun", but there are few things more satisfying than empowering of the disempowered. I didn't find this career, it found me. My definition of a "good job" has never been the same.

2. Looking for a job does not have to be scary. To this day, I still can't believe I worked at Borders for over a year- this was after graduating! Nothing against retail, but it clearly wasn't the job for me (something I knew that going in). So why did I stay for so long, working nights and weekends on my sore feet while hardly keeping an eye out for something better? One word: fear. Fear of instability, fear of rejection, fear of getting my hopes up, fear of not finding something better- talk about irrational! Confidence in the classroom was never a problem, but employment confidence was a totally different ball of wax. Ironically, my current job is all about teaching people job search strategies, interview preparation, positive affirmations, goal setting and life skills. Many of the tips I give my clients like "don't just look in the classified ads" or "don't be afraid to apply for something you're not quite qualified for" were things I never learned in college.

3. Parenthood is the ultimate classroom. Any parent could say this, but I still had to figure it out for myself. I can't state this strongly enough: I have learned more in 11 months of parenting than I ever did in 4 years of college. Fatherhood has been the most holistic education I could have ever imagined, a pleasure and a challenge on every possible level- spiritual, physical, mental, emotional, relational, financial, practical, etc. Being a dad has added fullness and depth to even the most common of life's experiences. I wouldn't trade it for anything. Right now, I'm just learning to write my name in the kindergarten of parenthood.

4. Being comes before doing. In a society where success defined by results, outcomes, finished products, bottom lines and outward growth, the focus is always on action. Who we are is thought to be synonymous with what we do. Our culture makes it easy, even desirable, to be busy- much easier than sitting still. I know very little about true contemplation as a spiritual discipline, but I have heard a consistent refrain from those who understand the inner life: contemplation preceeds action. As someone who has experienced more burnout than I'd care to admit, I'm still learning that the Christian life is about being changed from the inside out. There's nothing sexy about abiding in the Vine, but in Christ I must remain. Roots come before fruits. In many ways, this blog was started so that I would begin to reflect more deeply on who I am becoming.

For every lesson I've learned, there are a million things I've forgotten (or never learned to begin with). As promised, here are 4 things I have NOT learned in my post-college years:

1. How to finish a book. I love starting new books, but I can't seem to finish them. Our shelves are loaded with half-finished books, but boy do they look good up there or what? You know you have a problem when one of those unfinished books is called How to Read a Book (the first few chapters are great by the way). I will gladly share an author's background or highlight a book's major themes with anyone who is interested, but that doesn't mean I've actually read the darn thing. By the time I've carefully digested every dust jacket detail, foreword, introduction, and author's mini-bio, I don't have the stamina left to get past the first few chapters! Terrible, I know, but this has been a problem for quite some time. Even meeting my goal of finishing one book a month (out of the 3 or 4 that I start) is a major challenge. I did finish Prince Caspian earlier this month, but that's a C.S. Lewis classic for kids! Jeez.

2. How to win at fantasy baseball. I began playing fantasy sports back in 2000. Since then, I've won 6 basketball titles (out of 18 leagues in which I've played) and 2 football titles (out of 9 leagues). I even have a virtual trophy case that I'm quite proud of. However, in 8 seasons of fantasy baseball, I have won a grand total of zero times. I finished second once but that was a fluke because it was the only time I've ever cracked the top 3. Every year, I put in the research, draft a decent team and then screw it up with bad trades and poor decisions. Granted, I play with a group of Wheaton alums who are baseball freaks (at least 3 of whom have PhD's and another one who works as a researcher for ESPN) but still, I'm overdue. Maybe this will be the year.

3. How to stay in touch with friends. I try not to think about how many friendships I've lost (especially those from my days at Wheaton) simply because I didn't respond to emails or return phone calls. I've lost touch with even some of the closest friends I've ever known. Make new friends but keep the old? Not me because I get a big fat 'F' in keeping the old. I can't explain how this has happened, but I suppose the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem.

4. How to say no. I'm the kind of person that starts nodding and "mm-hmm"ing before you've even finished your statement or question. This flaw has led me to join far more than my fair share of many committees, projects and other time-consuming activities over the past 5 years. I believe the word for this is "passive." I don't handle rejection well, whether it's receiving it or giving it. If I could change one thing about my interactions with others, I would want to learn to say "no" more often. Something tells me that I'm going to get the chance to work on this one (as well as the other 3) in the coming weeks and months.

So there's you have it- my shameless countdown. Lifelong learning is now in session. As for my report card? I'll give you an update in 5 years.


becs said...

Wow, I loved reading this blog. You made me laugh & think.

As someone who knows the common loon pretty well, I'd have to say that he is quite the fellow!

Cheryl said...

Note to self:
Stop quaking in boots and start acting like job-hunting isn't so bad.

Denny and Jana said...

Thanks for the great blog this week! Do you really have a book called "How to Read a Book"?

The Common Loon said...

Yes, I do really have such a book: "How to Read a Book" by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren (1972). Like many of its partially-read shelfmates, it waits in futility on a crowded sill, long-sufferingly perched within spitting distance of our computer.

Linda said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I love hearing what's going on inside your head! Motherly advice: Keep in touch w/ old friends. They are priceless! I too lost some good friends by not keeping in touch (and this was before e-mail!)