What does it mean to graduate?
It’s an accomplishment, a milestone that marks the completion of one part of a journey. Our common understanding of it usually involves an academic degree or diploma.
But too often, it’s also just the end. Full stop.
About a quarter of American adults (24%) say they haven’t read a book in whole or in part in the past year, whether in print, electronic or audio form. Other research shows that 47% of Americans didn’t take all of their vacation time last year and 21% “left more than five vacation days on the table.” That’s time that could have been enjoying a new experience or exploring another city, state or country for the first time. Too often we associate learning as something we have to endure, and that it happens in certain places (schools and universities), and at certain times (also known as the “school year”).
But learning is not something that stops during the summer, or after you walk across the stage with a funny hat to receive a diploma. A rich, Adultitis-free life is always one of exploration, growth, and progress.
Christa Schmeelk went to Guatemala to build houses with her two boys (age 8 and 11) and her husband’s high school youth group. In the Escape Adulthood League, our online community of Adultitis Fighters, she shared an inspiring account of her experience living outside her comfort zone as a mom and a human being.
As one would expect, the trip was a learning experience for her boys and the high schoolers.
“Just as important as my parenting decisions, I had to make the decision for myself. Am I going to lean into adventure for me? Yes!! I learned how to use a skill saw and was the resident skill saw-er for 2 of the homes. When the grandma of one of the homes asked me to come in and make tortillas with her, there was no handwashing available or time to worry – I just brushed my hands on my dusty shorts and made tortillas. Hot and fresh and SO good. I leaned into speaking Spanish and was able to communicate and barter in spanish with confidence beyond my knowledge level using many hand motions and smiles and laughter. When one of the families sang a hymn for us at their home dedication, I spontaneously decided to sing the English version for them to let them know we appreciated it and could understand what they were singing. Their faces brightened as they recognized the tune and were smiling all around.”
I think one reason we see graduation as a welcome end is because we spend so much time in school being forced to memorize and regurgitate stuff we don’t care about. If you’re used to being forced to read books that are long, boring, and not interesting to you, who in their right mind would continue that when they’re not forced to?
The cool thing about being out of school is that we are in control of our own learning. The problem is that we’re so used to other people running the show, we miss out on the opportunity to make life amazing.
It really is a choice.
Like the one Christa made. Not just the decision to go to Guatemala, but the one to make herself fully open to the experience that was waiting for her.
Christa ended her post by saying, “The morning after we returned home, my older son said unprompted, ‘I feel like a different person now.’ And I do too. Now to keep it going here. My kids are just as competent and able here as they were in Guatemala. And I am just as adventurous and brave.”
One definition of graduation is “to pass from one stage of experience, proficiency, or prestige to a usually higher one.”
That’s a definition I can get behind. That’s what Christa did, no diploma necessary.
Learning is not about reading boring textbooks, enduring dry lectures, and filling in ovals on tests. It’s about embarking on an adventure that takes us to new places where we find ourselves better – braver, stronger, and wiser – than we ever thought we could be.
• What was the last book you read, just for fun?
• What new skill have you learned recently?
• When did you last spend some vacation days visiting someplace new?
• When was the last time you’ve been stretched out of your comfort zone and emerged as a better person?
If you’ve fallen into the trap of thinking of graduation as the end, Adultitis has already won.
But if you believe that learning never ends, and today is another day to explore, grow, and initiate a new adventure, then the forward is clear.