Your ideas suck. Now what?

Since my last super-optimistic post on the importance of having a vision, I have been taken down several pegs and come to a few realizations.

  1. It is not enough to simply have a vision. You have to successfully communicate that vision and get buy in from the right people.
  2. Unlike your friends, the right people may not be overwhelmingly interested in hearing your vision. In fact, they may leave the meeting at lunch time, when you’ve wasted the whole morning discussing reports, before you get to talk about your vision at all.
  3. Colleagues and work buddies will not always be as enthusiastic about this whole vision thing as you’d like them to be. Sure you’re fired up and ready to go but for everyone else it’s the same old boring meeting agenda that they always check out of. And don’t even think about asking questions in that setting. Not even the crickets will respond.

It’s exciting to have an idea that you think is great and will push the team in new, progressive directions. So it can be tough when your boss effectively says your brilliant new progressive idea is barking up the wrong tree. Ouch.

Hurt feelings aside (scrape it off and move on, this is business) it’s a great real life example of leaders being able to say we’re hacking away at the wrong forest. One silver lining in that cloud of ‘ooh, bummer’ is learning what kind of forest to look for when you’re at the top of that ladder swiveling your binoculars around. The uncomfortable experience of sharing an idea and having it critiqued is a powerful lesson in zoning in on the key issues.

For some people, I know, criticism makes them shut down immediately and not offer up any more ideas. But for me, I’m so eager to learn I don’t shy away from being wrong. In classroom settings I always attempt an answer, even if I’m not sure about it. Especially when I’m not sure about it. In the professional world I’ve been a lot more cautious about voicing my ideas. But I’m coming to realize that just like in class, getting things wrong can be a great way to learn how to get them right.

Romance novels, Dieting, and Unlikely Teachers

I sometimes think that my relationship with books is a lot like the relationship between a drug addict and his substance. I overdose on them and get hang overs; I go without them too long and start feeling antsy; I read a good one and I am on a high. There are different highs for different books.

Like Really Good Books. Really Good Books are like uppers: crack cocaine, methamphetamines. Great, soaring highs that make you think you’ve got it all figured out if only the world would just listen to you. RGBs make me almost manic in my excitement; I feel on top of the world.

Whereas romance novels are a lot more like downers: alcohol, benzodiazepines. A nice romance novel will make me feel like marijuana smokers: mellow, irie, in tune with the harmony of the universe. They are my rose-coloured (smoke-covered) lenses. I feel good.

But romance novels are also the junk food of the literary world. They’re a dime a dozen, they have very little substance and they tend to detract from rather than add to your critical thinking skills. At least that’s what I used to think. So I went on a diet: no romance novels whatsoever for twelve months. A solid year. Considering those books are my go to comfort read (what ice cream and chocolate are for other girls), this was a huge step. But I wanted to cleanse my literary palate, so to speak.

But in the eleven months that I lasted on my second attempt I shifted my thinking (amidst dealing with all my emotional breakdowns without my go-to respite) from “romance novels are bad.” to “maybe romance novels are good in moderation. Like wine. Or live viruses.” And I only lasted eleven months.

Diets are like that. I couldn’t go a year without pizza or popcorn even if I tried (especially not if I tried. Maybe if I did it without realizing it, sure) so why should I expect to go a year without reading a Harlequin?

Because those things aren’t all bad (unlike crack cocaine. Crack is whack, kids). And it’s not just the Really Good Books that can teach you truths about life and people and love. Okay, romance novels are crap at teaching you anything about love except that “it conquers all”. Which it doesn’t. But there are a surprising number of aha moments hidden in the shallows of their unrealism.

Any book can teach you something, if you let it.

This is what happens when you let me go to a Philosophy lecture

This one is a wall of text, guys. Apologies in advance, unless (like me) you like words. In which case, you’re welcome. 

I was a third year medical student pretending to be a first year Literature major, sitting beside a final year Philosophy major from Germany.

It was the best day of my life. 

Some of my classmates are using the four weeks’ holiday we’ve been granted to rest and reflect. Some have been using to to prepare for the annual third year production, Smoker. Some have been using it to prepare for their upcoming clinical rotation.

Today, I used it to sit in on lectures in the Faculty of Humanities and Education. And it was amazing. My ardent admiration for Literature, notwithstanding (Austen fans, see what I did there?), today I discovered the dearth of possibilities that lay open to most other university students (with the possible exception of students from the Faculty of Law): the almost limitless variety  of classes and courses that can wind up creating a one-of-a-kind bespoke first degree, and not just the one-size-fits-all paper that most students leave university toting.

I am absolutely green with envy at the students in Humanities and the Social Sciences who are restricted in the course decisions only by credit allowances. UWI is an all-you-can-eat buffet, and medical students are on a water-and-lettuce-leaf diet. Everyone else is given a plate and told to fill it as much as possible. So many of them waste so much of their plates, just leaving the space empty, when they could have topped it up with the study of languages, culture, psychology, gender, literature. Or is the lettuce leaf just greener on that side of life?

I want to rail against the university for the vacuum they’ve given us to study in, for how limited our options for real enlightenment are. These foundation courses that are meant to give students the benefit of a multi-faculty education are compulsory, true. But they have a pass mark of 40%. They only require 4/10 of the effort. They only need you to know 4/10 of the concepts and information that are being rigorously dissected by some other student doing some other major in some other faculty.

I am upset that we are allowed, encouraged even, to study one subject exclusively. Is a liberal education the opposite of this? Where can I get one of those?

I think the well-rounded university graduate is a myth. Called into being by some employer who wants a business grad with a working knowledge of computers and human behaviour.

The issue at heart is the cycle of invalidity: the undergrad freshman wants to make money when he/she graduates, the university needs marketable graduates to maintain its credibility, and of course society stigmatizes the liberal arts graduate as un-properly-educated and unqualified.

When will we recognize the relevance of every subject? When will we stop subjugating one discipline for the veneration of some other? (Philosophy-for-Science, I’m looking at you). In short, when will universities, as social institutions, create an environment that is suitable for developing the cornucopia of human minds it professes to cater to, instead of trying to jam every peg – square and otherwise – into one round hole?

Perhaps when philosophers stop teaching philosophy and start leading governments. Perhaps when doctors stop treating bodies and start healing psyches. Perhaps when students stop being simple mind-jugs waiting to be filled and start being critical leaders of social change.

Most likely I’m asking for too much, and much too soon.