This is a follow-up to my first post on this blog, the announcement of my Graduate Unschool project. I am writing this not with the excitement, enthusiasm, and optimism that shines through my original post, but instead with a lump in my throat, a knot in my stomach, and a deep sense of shame and embarrassment. I’ve tried to write other articles for the past few months, but I always felt somewhat dishonest for not addressing what’s going on with the largest and most ambitious project I’ve ever attempted (the sole thing I intended to base this website around) especially because it went so differently than I originally planned or expected. This is the article not the article I wanted to write. This is article I needed to write.

First, a little background on what I attempted. A year ago I decided that instead of attending graduate school I would create my own graduate school, make the courses up, hold myself accountable, and be extremely transparent about the process. I always seek to take on more and more, and after feeling bored and unchallenged at the end of my college experience, I decide to make this the most intense and difficult endeavor I’ve ever attempted. I designed five different courses, each with a unique and extremely difficult end goal, and each paired with a different learning method. The purpose of the project was to simultaneously learn about the topics I was most interested in, and to test and develop new learning methods, making the focus of the project primarily on learning how to learn. Below I have listed the course topics, goals, and learning methods, as well as where I currently stand with them.

Course Topic

Learning Method

End Goal

Current Standing

Software Engineering

Recursive Learning/ Deliberate Practice

Complete 9 MIT CS Courses, 150 Programming Puzzles from CtCI, and develop 2 board game AI Systems

Completed 2/9 MIT Courses, 2/10 problem sets on 6.0042j, 4/7 problem sets on 6.006, and <10 CtCI puzzles. No progress on board game AI.

Vert Skateboarding

DiSSS

Land a 1-2 foot high Caballerial on a ramp taller than 12 feet

Landed a 1 ft backside early grab in an 8 foot bowl

Solopreneurship (Solo-Entrepreneurship)

One Course of Action each Week

Complete 26 “homework assignments” based on self-improvement media. Create 26 actionable one pagers

4/26 one pagers (~15%)

App Development

Antifragile

Build an iPhone app and distribute it through the AppStore

Very Little Progress

Secret Course (Social Skills)

1% Improvement a Day

Improve my social skills by 515%

Complete

I gave myself a hard deadline of six months for the project, and intentionally chose goals and benchmarks that I believed would be completely impossible to accomplish in that time frame. I chose to do this because I saw getting close to perfect scores on tests and in college classes as a sign that I wasn’t pushing myself enough, that what I was attempting was too easy for me. Success to me has never been defined by how well I’ve performed, but instead whether or not I tried my absolute best, gave everything I had, and put my whole heart into it. Graduate Unschool was set up so that I could leave everything on the table and still potentially come up short.

Here’s what ended up actually happening. I was misled by my passion to start early. I became achievement focused instead of process focused and funneled my energy towards accomplishing the end goals instead of learning as much as possible. I stopped living in the present; I moved from wanting “to do” to wanting to “have done” my tasks (I didn’t want to sit down and do another MIT problem set, but I wanted to have completed the software engineering degree). I never expected anyone to follow, care about, or even read my progress and articles, (before announcing Graduate Unschool I’d spent almost a year blogging, and had never had more than three people read a single article), but when I realized that more people than I regularly have social contact with were keeping up with the project, I felt a pressure to perform. A pressure to not fail. Instead of trying my best simply to move forward everyday, I took my impossible goals seriously. I worked myself to complete frustration and exhaustion for a few weeks, then burned out. I felt guilty about my failure. I avoided the project. I made unsuccessful plans to catch up in secret, and I found myself with a guilt driven avoidance of the topics and learning methods I’d originally wanted to focus my life around.

Looking back it’s easy for me to speculate as to why this went so wildly different than I planned: I never even explored the learning methods because I was so caught up in accomplishing things, I was neither public nor transparent about any of it, but I’m ready to move forward and learn from this failed learning project.

I’ve given this a lot of thought and the truth is, I still care, I still want to learn, and I think I have partially purified my intentions. I’m going to take what I’ve learned from this past year and use it to approach the project in a healthier, more adaptive way. Instead of having harsh deadlines to fall behind and beat myself up about, I’m implementing the most powerful learning method I encountered during the project, consistently improving 1% a day, across the project as a whole. This keeps me grounded, it’s achievable without being easy, and moves me forward fast (at an exponential growth rate) without becoming overwhelming. I’m going to shift the focus off of myself and the end goals, and refocus it on learning about the learning process, and what new insights I gain as I progress through the project each week. This means I will no longer have to toil, writing a giant self indulgent article about my emotional state every time I give a Graduate Unschool update. Instead I will be posting weekly progress reports, regardless of how much progress I end up making that week, so that I can actually be public and transparent without becoming ego-protectant and narcissistic, as I’m afraid I became last time. Finally, there will be structural changes made to every course and the project in general, but these changes will be adaptive. They will happen as I move through the courses and learn more. I’d rather start moving in the right direction today than wait until I devise the perfect plan to start.

There was so much about college that I loved. The moments where I finally figured something out and dropped whatever I was doing to test it. The long hours of complete engagement in the problem solving process. The days where I unexpectedly acquired a new skill. The idea that there was always something left to learn. Graduating college was the truly disappointing part, but I think it’s because I was in it for the journey, not the destination. When I arrived I wondered why did I do all this work? Was this a giant waste of time? Did I even want this? I think I finally understand the answers to these questions. I did the work because I enjoyed doing the work. Time that you spend engaged and working on yourself is never a waste, even if it doesn’t turn out the way you expect it to. No, I never wanted to arrive anywhere, I was just enjoying the journey.

My learning journey will never end, and Graduate Unschool should be about making the journey as enjoyable and engaging as possible. I need to love what I’m doing everyday and not want it to end because even when I reach my foolishly intense end goals I don’t want to stop learning. This time I never want to arrive. I want to spend the rest of my life as a student. I want to hold true to the tagline of this website, learning full time, but I want to make it clear that the goal is to learn, not to learn full time for a couple of years then retire. I want to learn how to learn so that I can learn more. This is my manifesto for a lower pressure, healthier approach to my creative projects and my life in general. Consistency over intensity. Purpose over passion. Iteration over perfection. Humility over ego. Honesty over silence. Doing over being. Wanting over needing. Working over talking. Giving over expecting. The present over the future. Loving over infatuation. Unquitting unschool.

"When we lose we have a choice: Are we going to make this a lose-lose situation for ourselves.... Or will it be a lose ... and then win?" - Ryan Holiday

“When we lose we have a choice: Are we going to make this a lose-lose situation for ourselves…. Or will it be a lose … and then win?” – Ryan Holiday