‘You don’t learn to walk by following rules.
You learn by doing, and by falling over.’ –Richard Branson.
In my last post I shared my experience at community college where I experimented with different subjects and interests that ultimately led me to UC Irvine, where I would major in social science and minor in education. There are so many experiences that I could share from my time here as an undergraduate and graduate student. I’ll narrow it down to two timeless skills that had a significant impact on my career in a post recession world.
Experience #1: Be Curious
You don’t know what you don’t know and the only way to solve for this is by showing an interest in different things by being curious. My obsession with browsing course catalogs never died and every time registration came around I would struggle to narrow down the selection, often taking 20 instead of the 12 units I needed to be full time. Today your canvas is so much broader than a course catalog. We can expand upon what we wonder with a few taps and clicks and we can learn anything, anytime, anywhere from anyone. If yesterday I was browsing course catalogs today I’m browsing the internet to see who I should be learning from and recording podcast episodes.
Browsing the course catalog led me to sign up for a course on the history of modern Iran. It was by far one of the most fascinating courses I have ever taken and I became particularly interested in a pivotal moment in Iranian history – the overthrow of Mossadegh. This event would spark the beginning of a turbulent relationship between the United States and Iran, not to mention act as a catalyst to a pattern we would see continue in our foreign policy.
During the first week of graduate school Bruce Baron, my professor for “Teaching Methods in Social Science,” and now my incredible friend, mentor and life advisor on all things, assigned me to read and analyze Chapter 10 – Down the Memory Hole from, “Lies My Teacher Told Me.” This chapter was about the stories we don’t tell in textbooks and how this leads to a lack of context.
Coincidentally this chapter used the assassination of Mossadegh as an example. This story was very alive in my mind and to have the opportunity to talk about all the pieces of the story that were not included in textbooks and how that changed the narrative had me writing well over the required number of pages with a passion that would get the attention of others. That paper led to many more conversations between Bruce and I and sparked one of the most valuable friendships I have today. Knowing my passion and interests he placed me with two of his former students who would be my master teachers. He would also be the one to recommend for my very first teaching job at the coveted Northwood High School in Irvine.
Moral of the Story
Never before has this quote from Steve Jobs rang more true for me, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”
The dots emerge from your curiosities, from when you seek out different experiences and allow yourself to learn new things. They don’t test for this on the SAT so we don’t spend a lot of time practicing this skill or emphasizing its importance. In fact, most students are so busy doing what they think they have to do that they don’t make time to think about what they WANT to do. If you read my last post you know that seeking out learning experiences based on curiosity is a pattern that holds true throughout my college experience and is the one I stress the most. In my upcoming podcast launching in January, you’ll find this to be a resounding theme amongst all of the guests as well as they talk about their journeys.
When seeking advice from others when considering the different pathways you want to pursue be it college, entrepreneurship or anything else ask people questions that allow them to tell stories. Ask what interests they pursued? If they simply state the interest, ask them why. Then ask why again. Then again.
Ask them what unique experiences they sought out? When they tell you the answer, ask them why. They ask why again. Then again. In having these conversations you will pick up patterns and themes – take note of those. Those answers will help you not only decide what pathway decision is right for you but will show you how many different ways there are to designing your professional career and really your life.
Experience #2: Learn by Doing
I never really paid much attention to the name of my Master’s degree – A Master in Teaching Arts. The gift of learning teaching as an art at UC Irvine is what I attribute my success too in being able to navigate change and evolve in my role as an educator. It’s taken me from the classroom to consultant to the corporate world. The education industry was hit hard with budget cuts and with the introduction of more technology in an environment where many struggled, I was able to not only evolve but lead others through the change.
“The job is what you do when you are told what to do. Someone can always do your job better, faster or cheaper. Your art is what you do when no one can tell you exactly how to do it. You art is the act of taking personal responsibility, challenging the status quo and changing people”Seth Godin
We spent so much time on the art of designing and facilitating experiences. It is here I would learn under Bruce Baron to take personal responsibility for my students, to challenge the status quo of teaching in a standardized way and the impact I could have to change lives as an educator. I was placed with two master teachers who were absolutely phenomenal and who handed their classrooms over to me. This was probably one of the most scariest but most rewarding experiences. First, I had expected to be teaching a history course. I taught government – which is a one semester course for seniors. Using this time to take risks, to try new things and to take full ownership of the planning allowed it to be one of the best masterpieces of my career. Always remember the person doing the work is the person doing the learning. So yes you can sit back and just observe, and you probably want some of that. However, at some point you want to immerse yourself in experiences where you can try new things and your time in college is one of the safest environments to do this in.
Moral of the Story
You don’t need permission or an assignment handed to you to create your own art or try something new. I am always thinking of these words by Tony Wagner, “Today’s world doesn’t care about what you know, it cares about what you can do with what you know.”
I add on to this by saying — find and be found. You have to show the world what you can do with what you know using the tools and platforms we have today.
As a student again, this time in a doctoral program, I’m constantly asking myself, “What art am I creating today?” This can take so many forms from this blog post, to my new podcast launching in January to an Instagram or Twitter post.
This perspective is a game changer when it comes to how you experience learning. What happens when you do this over a few years? One – you develop a clear purpose and an understanding of what you enjoy and what your strengths and values are. Two – If you are strategic you will have developed a network of people who are offering you positions before you even have to go looking for them. Three – you build an audience and reputation for who you are and what you can do.
This is what happened for my sister Sadia Quidwai. It was our work together that led the Physician Assistant program at USC to create a new position, “Director of Innovative Learning.” She never could have imagined moving to London after graduation. Being an active LinkedIn and Twitter user where she shared what she can do with what she knows led her to being chosen to lead the development of this profession at one of the top hospitals in the UK – Guys and St.Thomas.
I’d love to hear how you’re leveraging social media to share the work you are doing as a student. What challenges do you face? What more would you like to learn?
I’m so grateful for my time at UC Irvine and for the skills I learned. So when I learned how they are reimagining higher education for the next decade I couldn’t have been more proud to be an Anteater. In my next post I’ll share their vision for the future.
I believe that the future should be designed. Not left to chance.
Over the past decade, using design thinking practices I've helped schools and businesses create a culture of innovation where everyone is empowered to move from idea to impact, to address complex challenges and discover opportunities.