Tuesday, October 14, 2014

What are you doing? (part 1)

I graduated from high school in the Spring of 2013. Because of previously earned credits, I finished my Associate of Arts in Business Administration in the Spring of 2014. At the time, I was 19 years old and completely debt free with two years of college credit to my name. I was also working part-time as a nanny and loved my job. Chipping away on my college degree while working in the afternoons was my Monday through Friday. Church and social life defined the weekends. It was fun. I was being "productive". I was staying out of debt. But, I felt like I was just... doing.

So, I applied for and was accepted into Praxis, not knowing what to expect.

Now, I was skeptical about the program at first. Even though I had met the founder and CEO several years before and knew that he and others on the team were smart, innovative, and well connected, I had my reservations. For many years I had been told that a college degree was the only way to be successful in the business world. As a business major, I believed that I needed that degree to even get a job.

But, many different voices had been speaking to me about college and the value of a degree. Blog posts and articles filled with personal stories and statistics seemed to flood my feed on Facebook. People young and old I talked to were often bringing up regret about their college years being a waste and their student loans a burden. From my year as a full time college student, I realized that many of my fellow students were "just there" and were not really learning much or taking advantage of the class material or the professors.

Finally, I took the plunge. I decided to take a rest from that "must needed" college degree I was working on and instead joined the Fall 2014 Praxis class. And five weeks into it, I'm so glad I did.

We just finished up our first module of the online material (read my thoughts about that module here). I'm also starting to learn the ropes of my business partner (I'll write more about that in part 2). The other seven Fall 2014 participants and I have had some great clash and collaboration in our weekly discussion groups. I'm constantly being challenged to create value and grow as a person. It's completely unlike the atmosphere at my college. Instead of a "get this stuff done" attitude, it is more of a "create something and learn from your experience" mindset. And I love it.

I plan to write more as I get further into the program. You can read about my experience at the opening seminar here and stay tuned for my post about my business partner.

I'm honored to be part of this program so early in its conception. I want to break the mold.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Philosophy is for [insert adjective here] People

I like to focus on practical, tangible, measurable things. To be honest, I don't care about abstract questions like "Do I exist?", "Is truth objective?", "What is the key to happiness?", or "Is there a god?".
Photo credit: winnond 

It's not that I do not think about these things; it's that I have already accepted certain answers to these types of questions and I normally do not come back to them once I arrive at a conclusion.

I would rather focus on my to-do list and getting things done than sit around philosophizing about questions humans have been asking themselves for centuries and will always be asking each other. 

So this past month, while working through the Praxis philosophy module, I struggled. My first week in the module was especially trying. For those first seven days, my thoughts kind of went something like this: Ugh. Philosophy. Why do we have to start with philosophy? This is so silly and irrelevant. Why will this make me a better entrepreneur? Do I really have to remember all of these names? Oh wow this is boring. Now I remember why I dislike philosophy -- because it's stupid. 

Yeah, my attitude may have needed some improvement. 

As I forced myself through the History of Philosophy section that first week, I must admit that my second week looked gloomy. I still had a lot of content about philosophy to cover. Better just get it over with, I thought. 

As the module progressed, we began learning about and discussing philosophy as a way to study government, happiness, science, religion, ethics, and art. We covered topics like social justice, rule of law, and consciousness of the brain. We asked difficult questions like "Do we have free will?" and "Can God create a rock so heavy he can't pick it up?" and "What makes a society just?". 

As a concrete thinker, I stand firm in my position. Often times in a discussion, even if I realize that I could be wrong, I will stand my ground. That's just the kind of person I am.

But as I searched for answers to these difficult questions and discussed them with my group, I realized that the answers that I have accepted for years were not always sufficient. I needed more. I needed to dig deeper. I needed to avoid accepting something as true just because a person of authority told me it was so. 

For example, I believe I have free will. But why do I believe this? Because the things I do have always seemed to be my choice. But what if whatever is controlling me is simply allowing me to believe I'm making my own choice when in fact I am just a puppet? Just because it appears I have free will does not necessarily ensure my freedom. 

In the weeks that followed my initial irritation with philosophy, I began to experience the value of philosophizing questions we may never be able to answer: it creates a better thinker. 

Previously, I lazily accepted ideas just because they made sense to me or someone I trusted told me it was so. This way of living, I realized, is passive and ignorant. 

The purpose of philosophy is not to come to conclusions. The purpose of philosophy is to question the conclusions society has already made. The purpose of philosophy is to broaden our horizons of thought, expand our concept of what is real, and diminish the security of our notions which closes our minds against speculation and discovery. 

Note: this does not mean I changed my view on everything I previously believed before beginning this module. It simply made me aware that I should not accept "truth" out of habit or *gulp* laziness. 

Studying philosophy upset my fruit basket. By the third week of study, I admitted to my group (in much less ladylike terms) that this module annoyed and even infuriated me "so many times". It began to agitate me not because it was boring or impractical, but because I realized I was a lazy thinker. And looking at things philosophically was forcing me to think harder, longer, and deeper than I had previously realized was possible or necessary. This past month I have literally gotten headaches from thinking this hard and forcing my brain to stretch to places beyond where I had previously allowed it to go. 

I found out that philosophy is for professors, nurses, kindergarten teachers, preachers, police officers, doctors, secretaries, and stay-at-home moms. Philosophy is for elderly, adults, teens, children, and the family dog. Philosophy is for smart, dumb, artsy, happy, depressed, introverted, extroverted, practical, stubborn, free-spirited, religious, non-religious, scientific, business-minded, and (especially) lazy people. 

Whatever type of person you are, consider using philosophy as a means to expand your way of thinking, to question your beliefs, and to come up with creative and different answers and solutions. It's okay to keep believing the things you believe -- just realize that there are two (or three, or four...) sides to every coin. Explore all of them before you accept things at face value or simply because "that's the way it has always been". 

Philosophy isn't just for the elite thinkers -- philosophy is for everybody, including you. It's time to tear down your walls and start thinking critically. It will be painful at first, but keep trying. Eventually your brain will become strong enough to handle the intense mental exercise that is philosophical thinking.