Are You A Professional Student?


My sister made an interesting post on Facebook recently.  She said “if I hit the lottery I would go back to school forever”  That statement got me thinking.  Why do some people like school and others (like me) don’t?
Life is a continuous learning process.  In some ways I am always in school yet I don’t spend any time in the traditional classroom environment.  I don’t like reading and discussing things in big groups, I like doing things.  Acting classes where you act, voice classes where you practice being a character, design classes where you build real things for real people, are all classes I have taken, enjoyed and continue to seek out.
Most of my writing and the classes I teach are about doing something a better (easier) way.  My mission is to keep you from having to learn it the hard way.  Normally when I take a class, I am looking for the most efficient and effective way to get the job done.   I want to distill the work down to the absolute requirements, it’s essence if you will.  Sometimes though, I want to know the absolute best way to get it done.
I didn’t like High School at all.  With the exception of Bob Kernaghan’s computer science class I found it boring.  Not because I was any smarter than anyone else, I just had ADD to the point that sitting in class didn’t cut it.  It was so bad that if you go to my high school and look in the yearbook, I am not in the graduating class photos.  I left for the military and took a couple of college classes so eventually they gave me a diploma, but I didn’t graduate like the rest of my friends.
College in general was a different experience.  I was already doing the job, that I was getting a degree to do, and my professors knew it.  In one class I was listed in the credits of the text book.  By the time I hit my senior year, I was prepping the class for the professor and never went.  I didn’t mind college because I spent so little time there.
The truth is, I only went to college because I wanted to fly military jets, and a degree was a requirement.  Otherwise college felt like an expensive way to go to the library and listen to someone’s thoughts on a book I could read myself.
My mom has a Ph.D. From a prestigious university and has a great “job”.  I have never wanted a “job”.  Looking at my family, I was even more curious about the differences.  What is it about school that my mom, younger brother and sister enjoy?  Why don’t my older brother or I seem to like school?
My older brother is a retired police officer and retired military loadmaster starting his next chapter.  He didn’t go back to school.  As far as I know, he never set foot in college, but he was always learning like me.  He and I are also “self starters”.  When I want to do something I have never done, I go do it.  Usually, I find a book, or a class so I don’t waste time doing it wrong several times before I get it right.
Clearly my entire family has a thirst for knowledge.  My older brother and I are more “hands on”.  We prefer to learn the old fashioned way, like a journeyman.  My moms father was an engineer at Lockheed aircraft.  He took engineering and math at work, and the rest was on the job training or OJT, my guess is I am more like him.
Some people go from home to college and never walk in the “real”world.  I know a few people who are referred to as professional students, so I talked to a couple of them to get a view outside of my family.  Some didn’t have parents around so maybe school was filing that need.  Most though, went from home, being supported by their parents, straight away to school also supported by parents or subsidies in some way.  It appears the difference boils down to one thing, risk aversion.
School is a very risk averse environment. School gives you instructions for growth.  School tells you what’s next.  For instance, in college you get a counselor and a catalogue that says, take x classes, and y labs and get z degree.  No risk, just success, by way of being awarded or conferred a degree.
Life on the other hand is risky.  There are no catalogues for life.  There are coaches who can help and offer guidance.  There is an entire industry of self help out there because the need is so big.  The big difference between the traditional education system and the self help industry is none of them (or me for that matter) can give you a formula that will guarantee your success.  My formula has worked well for me, but life won’t give you that guaranty and neither will I.
School looks like a great place to be protected from the responsibilities and risks of life most of the time.  In life the rewards are more sporadic, you never know when your big break will come.  In school, the rewards are consistent as long as you make the grade and move to the next step.  The real truth is after you graduate and have the degree, there is no guarantee of future success.  The odds are you will make more money.  It doesn’t say you’ll be happier or won’t have more bills.
The more I thought about working as an actor I realized a lot of similar features between a studio and school.  Both are some what protected environments, both allow you to become something different, and both offer opportunities to learn.  In fact the military had some of these traits too.  In all three cases there is a structure and expectation that is missing in society otherwise.  We don’t go to work at one company our entire lives like my grandparents did, that thread in our social fabric has been worn quite thin.
School has a better support system to prevent failure, so the downside is limited, but to some extent so is the upside.  As a business owner, actor and even a military pilot, the was a risk of catastrophic failure and a slim chance of astronomical rewards.
At the end of the day I guess that everyone is a professional student of life on some level.  The question is are you learning the right lessons and are you taking enough risks wherever you are?