All Posts in “Education”

College As a Coming of Age Ritual

I’ve been reading Myths To Live By by Joseph Campbell recently and this section about coming of age rituals stuck out to me today:

“Accordingly, one of the first functions of the puberty rites of primitive societies, and indeed of education everywhere, has been always that of switching the response systems of adolescents from dependency to responsibility — which is no easy transformation to achieve. And with the extension of the period of dependency in our own civilization into the middle or even late twenties, the challenge is today more threatening than ever, and our failures are increasingly apparent.
A neurotic might be defined in this light, as one who has failed to come altogether across the critical threshold of his adult “second birth.” Stimuli that should evoke in him thoughts and acts of responsibility evoke those, instead, of flight to protection, fear of punishment, need for advice, and so on.”

As religious and familial traditions have broken down and adolescence has extended, college (or some vocational schooling) has become the major coming of age ritual in our society. It is a long ritual that for many people marks the transition from adolescent dependency into adult responsibility.

The issue with college is that it sucks as a coming of age ritual. Spending four or five years in extended adolescence and taking on hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt may provide the motivation to take responsibility and reluctantly step into adulthood, but it significantly harms your ability to enjoy your life down the road.

As college students and colleges have figured out that graduation means adulthood, they have slowly shifted from a four year coming of age into a Neverland that fosters old and dependent children.

The Path to College

When you finish high school, you are faced with a choice. You have been walking on a well-paved track for 12 years–it felt safe and certain.

As you walk towards the end you see a fork in the road. One direction is clear and well paved. It is the path to college where all your friends are headed. There are street-lights, people having fun, and the appearance of security.

The other direction looks dark and dangerous. You can see the start of a trail heading into a forest, but you can’t see very far down the path. This is the path to adulthood.

We pretend that the path to college will make the path to adulthood less scary. We imagine that the well-paved path to college makes a smooth transition into the adulthood expressway. But the path to college is a loop that leads right back to this moment. It offers the illusion of security at the expense of progress.

You will return to this moment again 4 years older and significantly poorer. That well-paved track will now be to grad school and the path to adulthood will look no clearer.

You will never escape until you accept your fear and step out on the uncertain path to adulthood.


Feature Photo by Mike Enerio on Unsplash

The Utility of Learning

Most people approach decisions about education with a focus on utility.

You hear this a lot when people talk about language learning. “Spanish is a good language to learn because you can use it in so many countries.” This is true, but approaching learning solely focused on the practical end uses makes it easy to overlook the satisfaction and fulfillment inherent in learning.

As humans, one of our most fundamental sources of happiness is seeing ourselves grow. Making progress towards goals and improving our skills is immensely satisfying, no matter if it’s learning a language, how to solve a Rubix Cube, or how to program in Javascript.

We are hard-wired to enjoy the act of learning.

Given the almost endless options you have to invest your time in, it makes sense to think critically about the long-term value of the things you are learning. But in thinking about that value, don’t overlook the simple pleasure and satisfaction that comes from learning in the first place.

How Traveling Builds Self-Esteem Part Four

*This is part four of a multi-part series on self-esteem and travel using the framework from Nathaniel Branden’s Six Pillars of Self-Esteem. Here are parts one, two, and three.

We’ve covered a lot of ground so far. From what self-esteem is, to the first four pillars of self-esteem and the ways that travel promotes those pillars.

The fifth pillar of self-esteem is the practice of living purposefully.

In the Six Pillars, Branden defines it as,

identifying our short-term and long-term goals or purposes and the actions needed to attain them (formulating an action-plan); organizing behavior in the service of those goals; monitoring action to be sure we stay on track; and paying attention to outcome so as to recognize if and when we need to go back to the drawing-board.”

Pretty simple.

Living purposefully doesn’t mean finding a single life task. Instead, it is the practice of setting out plans or goals for yourself and taking action to achieve them. It is having a vision for your future and taking action to get there.

How Traveling Builds Self-Esteem Part Three

*This is part three of a multi-part series on Travel and self-esteem


Nathaniel Branden defines assertiveness as,

“Being authentic in our dealings with others; treating our values and persons with decent respect in social contexts; refusing to fake the reality of who we are or what we esteem in order to avoid disapproval; the willingness to stand up for ourselves and our ideas in appropriate ways in appropriate contexts.”


Learning a language is one of the best ways to improve your level of assertiveness.

Traveling in Spanish speaking countries with only a limited vocabulary means that you have to get comfortable asking people questions and looking like an idiot.

Being passive is complex. You need to know the intricacies of the language to say “do you think that I could possibly…”

Being assertive is simple. “Can I have…” “Where is…”

When you are new to a language, you have to be more assertive if you want to learn and improve. And that assertiveness doesn’t go away when you go back home. It has become a habit, and your comfort zone has expanded. You have improved your assertiveness, and your self-esteem as a result.

If It Doesn’t Make Sense It’s Probably Nonsense

In school, you are taught that everything has already been figured out.

History, math, or science, whichever field you’re learning about, the ultimate answers have been figured out, and those answers are contained in your textbook.

You, as a student, are unenlightened. But if you sit still and memorize the rights words you can have the answers.

In school, you are taught that when you don’t understand something it is not the thing that is wrong, it is you that is wrong.

The book is hard to comprehend because YOU lack the intellect.

The math is hard to understand because YOU lack the conceptual thinking.

The lesson you don’t learn in school is to apply and trust your judgement.

You don’t learn that if something doesn’t make sense, it is very likely nonsense.

You don’t learn that most of the ultimate answers from our textbooks are actually incorrect.

Students abandon their search for truth because they feel unsuited. They become uninterested in math or philosophy.

Or they become convinced that they lack a trait crucial to understanding certain subjects. They aren’t numbers people. They aren’t science minded.

Students are lead into puzzles that lack legitimate solutions, and they learn to distrust their minds because they can’t figure it out.

The lesson they should be learning is to distrust the experts. To trust their judgment. To examine things deeply, but to sense that if a subject doesn’t make sense, it is not because THEY are dumb, but because the answers they are given are actually nonsense.

Travel University | Graduation

When I was 23, my life had become a burden. I didn’t like my job. I didn’t like anything in my life. The only thing I liked was escaping. Movies, sports, video games. Anything to forget what life was like.

I had graduated university two years earlier. I had a business degree, and I had spent the last two years of my life working as a glorified book-keeper. I couldn’t believe that this was all there was to life. Driving to work, driving home, watching TV,  going out on the weekend and dreading Monday morning. Was this what life was going to be like for the next 40 years?

It seemed pointless. I didn’t want to do it. Something had to be different.

Travel University | Organization 101

The skills you learn in school and college are only abstractly related to real life. If you zoom out and focus on the actual skills you are learning from age five to twenty-one, it is not math, history, or science, but instead, obedience and memorization. To be successful, you learn to please the authority figure at the front of the classroom and to memorize and regurgitate information on tests.

To achieve high grades in school, which is the endgame of any student, you learn to identify the information that is most likely to be tested, and you set up a way to capture that information and reproduce it when necessary. Humans are naturally lazy. We look for the most efficient ways to get what we want. If what you want is a 70% grade, the most efficient way to get it is to cram for exams.

In schools, paying attention during classes and actively practicing what you’re learning is not an efficient path to good grades. Most teachers give test review, letting you know in advance the most important information that will be on the test. Tthe most efficient way to get a decent grade is to wait until that point and only study the pre-test materials. The common skills you practice in every class is how to memorize information and perform on tests, skills that have little application in the real world.

University is an extension of this system. Although the information you are memorizing is more relevant to life in many cases (sorry arts majors), the actual skill you are learning, practicing and refining is how to memorize and test. Projects and papers are just other types of tests. You learn to look for what the professor wants and how to deliver that.

Travel University | Continuing Education

School ruins readers. By the time you make it through high school and college, you go from a curious explorer of stories and ideas to someone who associates books with boredom and stress. The association is so deep that years typically go by before a college graduate remembers that reading can be fun, and it’s just not something to do because you have to.

When you look around at very successful people, one of the most common traits is a love of reading. It’s pretty simple; reading is one of the best ways to learn and those that read a lot, tend to learn a lot.

Whether it’s cryptocurrency, frog anatomy, or ancient Slavic history, there are books on every topic imaginable. For a few dollars, you can get lost in millions of worlds. Imaginary, historical, biographical. You can become a fly on the wall and learn what life was like for some of history’s most impressive people.

Go a Little Further

Two days ago I took friends to see Lake Louise. It is a spectacular glacial lake and one of the most popular tourist attractions in Canada.

When you arrive at the lake, you get the feeling you are walking into a concert. A large crowd surrounds the parking lot end of the lake, posing for selfies and other photos with the beautiful mountains and lake behind them.

You could be forgiven for feeling a little frustrated with the crowd. It would be great to have more space to appreciate the amazing view.

Luckily there is a trail that leads around the lake. If you start walking on it, within a few minutes, the crowd is completely gone. There are still people, but 80% of the crowd sits at the parking lot end. Fighting with each other for space to get a good shot.

Twenty minutes of walking leads you to points with amazing unobstructed views where you don’t have to compete with anyone.

It takes a lot less effort than you think to separate yourself from the crowd.

The same applies to work.

Most people just do enough to get by. They learn the skills required to do their job and avoid being fired and then stay at that level. They stop progressing; they stop looking for opportunities to separate themselves from the sea of other people just doing enough.

They rationalize not doing more.

They’re not paid enough. They don’t get enough respect from their boss. It would take to much effort.

They don’t realize how easy it is. Most people just do enough to get by. When you do 10% more, you stand out.

How can you do 10% more today?

Can you share your knowledge with a coworker? Can you automate something? Can you finish a project before you leave the office that has been lingering for a while? Can you just clean you coffee mug instead of leaving it in the sink.

It’s easier than you can imagine to separate yourself.

Instead of complaining how crowded and hard it is to stand out, walk a little further, you can’t imagine the views you’ll see.