Sometime ago, my friend and I were talking about how his daughter was considering going to graduate school for learning design (after having worked for a design firm for a while). At the time, she was conflicted between starting her own practice and going to school. I went off tangent telling him why it wasn’t about design, law, photography, architecture, etc. per se, rather they were simply ways through which we shared our stories with the world, which was the major piece of the puzzle (leadership as opposed to management, if you will).
Sure, you can go to design school to learn about the tools and techniques, but it can’t teach you to have an opinion, which is what matters (and makes you you). At the end of the day, it’s not about design (or any medium for that matter), but what you do with it. No one can teach you the latter. Likewise, you can go to film school to learn the craft of filmmaking, but it can’t teach you which stories to tell through the medium of motion pictures. That has to come from you.
The formal education we have in schools for studying design, law, business, etc. are only tools through which we use to share our stories. It’s not about picking them arbitrarily based on what we think we might like, but using them to share our stories with others. The hard part is articulating the story you wish to tell, not picking a medium (that’s easy).
Stories are how we survive. Its what makes us human. In business, they tell you to share stories so people will buy from you. However, stories are not something you share to “get something”, rather its who you are and what you stand for. The idea is to share stories to find the others like you, so that together, you can do something great with them.
For me, writing simply happens to be my choice of medium through which I’m sharing my philosophy (along with coaching and speaking). For you, it could be singing, writing poems or lyrics, painting, sculpture, creating spreadsheets, composing music, making movies, etc. At the end of the day, we are all in the business of telling stories even as we use different media to share it, which is purely incidental (more on this in a future piece).
Take my example. What drives me is my Why, which is to inspire others (including myself) to live a more meaningful life, so that together, we can create a better future. I believe life is about finding the others and doing something great with them (personally and professionally). Everything I do is in service of finding my people, so that together, we can work towards this vision — I want to live in a world where most of us act with intention, play to our strengths, and live modestly as a life ambition. I believe if most of us will aspire to live this way, it will go a long way towards creating a happier and sustainable planet not only for our generation to survive, but also for our future generations to thrive. And so, I’m looking for as many people as possible to help me advance this cause. Writing, speaking, coaching/consulting, and community building are simply ways for me to bring about this cause to life. Soon I’ll be sharing my philosophy through podcast and video as well because we have our own preferences for learning things (reading, listening, viewing). That won’t make me a “podcaster” or a “YouTube creator.” They are only tools that help us tell our stories.
Poet Rumi reminds us:
Set your life on fire. Seek those who fan your flames.
This approach is in sharp contrast to young adults picking one area over another (design and/or film, let’s say) simply because they happen to like that tool/medium. There is nothing wrong with that except its only a medium, but the message will have to come from you. No school will teach you that. That’s what makes you you. The message is far greater than the medium. Once you know the story you want to tell, then you can use the medium of your choice to share your stories with others. Then, you don’t have to work on “differentiating yourself” from others (as they teach you in the “real world”), because who you are is much greater than what you do. And, what you do simply happens to be one of the ways of realizing yourself. Of course, the great irony isn’t lost on me, which is the world rewards you for being yourself, but conditions you to be like everyone else.
The question I like to ask others (teens in particular) is, “What kind of world do you want to live in?” My followup question is “How might you (use your strengths to) bring about that change in the world?” That will help you discover your story. You see, we naturally feel strongly about some things versus the others. We believe and stand for some things in the world. There’s a reason for that. It’s vital to not let your thinking get in the way of your feeling. Then, you can pick your tool of choice (be it business, acting, design, cinematography, or what have you) to share the story you want to tell in a medium that feels right to you. And only then, will you be able to find the others who will care about your message as much as you do. And, that’s how we change the world around us.
What you’ll realize is once you know what story you want to tell and how you want to express yourself, then it won’t even matter if you go to school. In fact, you’re better off not going to one (more on this in a future piece). Instead, find a master to apprentice with. How do you find them? Well, as they say, when the student is ready, the master will appear. And when the student is truly ready, the master will disappear.