Lifelong Learning

Sonja Ardoin’s The Strategic Guide to Shaping Your Student Affairs Career

Chapter four is all about lifelong learning, which one of the contributors, Mat, describes as “capitalizing on opportunities and responding to the unexpected, even when it is extremely harsh, to create something positive.”

I reflect on this section of the book, specifically Mat’s anecdote, as I consider what committing to the process of lifelong learning looks like in my personal life and field. This season has been educationally atypical for me; though I worked full-time while in school, I temporarily have lost out on an 18-year-long routine of formal learning. It’s uncomfortable. Moreover, it can be tempting to convince myself I am not actually learning. But this section of the book helped reframe my perspective on what it means to be a learner.

Mat goes over three essential aspects of lifelong learning: risk, failure, and accepting help from others.

I have never been known to take risks; I am actually notorious for quite the opposite. My aversion to failure (more on that later) is plenty enough to scare me off from an opportunity associated with even minimal degrees of risk. But one note I highlighted in the book was that accepting risk does not equate to taking unnecessary risks—rather, accepting risk is doing everything reasonable one can do to ensure success. I was grateful to read this section because it encouraged me to acknowledge the ways I accepted the risk of coming to Adams and how it continues to pay off. I have had a longstanding love/hate relationship with my calculated approach to decision-making, but I think recognizing the acceptance of risk requires thorough preparation makes me love both my leadership and self just a bit more.

“Failure is an acceptable outcome.” It’s easy to say, especially to someone else, but not so easy to believe when it comes to my own performance. I’ve been conditioned to be averse to failure– I don’t fear failure as much as I hate the feeling of it. I grew up the youngest of four children in a Chinese-American home. My Dad was a pastor before eventually earning his third advanced degree and becoming an associate dean at a university. My Mom was my grade school’s foundation and PTA president. I recognize I was born and raised in omnipresent social pressure; if I did not feel enough pressure from my Church, teachers, and principals, my parents and siblings were there to finish the job. However, this section of Mat’s anecdote once again reframed my perspective. As an outdoor programs specialist, he writes there is a significant difference between someone being too lazy to make it to the summit of a hike and someone not making it to the top because he/she has been severely injured. While the outcomes are the same, they are caused by two very different factors. The point is to acknowledge that I might miss the success mark sometimes, but I have to evaluate whether I did everything I could to achieve it. We can’t control it all; failure exists within the process– not the outcome.

And lastly, accepting help from others is essential. I have a lot of room to grow in this one. While deep and intimate relationships are core to my being, I admit asking for help often feels impossible. My parents taught me to always serve others and to never be served. In ending this section, I rediscovered gratitude for the relationships I have, in which people break past the walls I setup to (try to) protect myself. I don’t think accepting help requires becoming a desperate case– but I think I can stop making it so difficult for others and myself when it comes to working together.

Note to self: learn to embrace risks, reconcile failure, & accept help.