What’s Intentional Learning? Why is it Key to My Success?

The most common word floating around on this site: Intentionality. What is it, and who is it for?

Intentionality is (1) seeing things for what they are and (2) using things for what they’re worth.

(1) Seeing things for what they are:

Let’s face it, we are constantly bombarded with ideas and suggestions. So much so that our brains are exhausted filtering the useful from the useless. Our tendency in response: to go with the flow. Do what everyone around us is doing. Or do what the authority figure (parents, teachers, boss) tells us to. It is much more comfortable to go with the herd than to figure out what we should be doing for ourselves. We become blind to the realities of most situations, and instead just go through the motions without any thought for what’s really going on.

Here’s an example: I polled my students and determined that the average full-time student in my class worked a job for 16 hours a week at $8/hour. These same students reported eating out for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or coffee a total of 8 times a week. The average cost for that eating out is about $6 (students are great at finding deals, and the cost of coffee is significantly less than the cost of dinner – bringing the average down). These same students reported feeling constantly stressed because they didn’t have enough time to finish their schoolwork. You should have seen the lightbulbs appear over their heads when I pointed out that they could have 6 hours a week back from work if they made lunch and coffee at home.

(2) Using things for what they’re worth:

Most situations aren’t as black and white as the part-time-job/eating out tradeoff. More often than not, any given thing (opportunities, responsibilities, and even objects we own or want to own) has both benefits and costs. Using things for what they are worth means squeezing every last drop of value out of this thing, while minimizing the reach of the costs.

For instance, imagine that the 16-hour job was actually an internship. An internship helps to overcome one of the largest challenges graduates face as they seek first-time employment: no experience. How can a person squeeze every last drop of value out of this internship experience? First, do meaningful work that builds a relevant portfolio. We all get coffee for the boss at some point in our lives. But find ways to get involved with projects that you can use to demonstrate relevant, transferrable experience in the future. Second, ask the question of whether a 16-hour internship is actually any better than a 10-hour internship. Chances are that our hypothetical student could gain the same valuable experience, back off to 10 hours, stop eating out, and improve her grades.

What’s the point? Simple: in most situations there is no such thing as a right or wrong answer. Everything involves a tradeoff that we have to manage according to our values. When we don’t actively reflect and manage these tradeoffs, we let someone else manage them for us.

It doesn’t matter what you choose to do, as long as you (1) actually consider the consequences, and (2) do whatever you do on purpose.

[That’s intentionality.]

Intentional Learning…

…takes this mindset and applies it to your school. Rather than school being another checklist, another rite of passage, we use what school offers to get you to the life of your dreams.

(1) Seeing school for what it is:

School is an amazing place. Nowhere else on earth is it OK to not know everything (despite how you may be feeling as you approach finals). Nowhere else on earth will you find a building full of successful professionals in your chosen field who are there because they truly hope to see you succeed.

It’s amazing to think of the very premise of school: give us a few years of concentrated effort and we will change your entire life. More than that, we will change the lives of your spouses and your children and your grandchildren. Did you ever consider that? Everything you do today in the name of your own “success” feeds forward to the next generation. And the generation after that. The Hebrew kings had a saying : “the oil drips from the beard.” The point? That excellence at the head of any tree is perpetuated from generation to generation.

School, however, is an institution. As a result, it can only move so fast. Everything in your school is designed by committee. When is the last time you were in a room full of passionate people and they actually agreed whole-heartedly on a single course of action? Exactly. The challenge is that we’ve reached a place in history where the needs of society are actually out-pacing the ability of the schools to adapt.

Usually, schools adapt by adding classes to the curriculum. They don’t eliminate any old ones, they just expect you to get more done with the same resources.

(2) Using school for what it’s worth:

So here’s what your fellow students are doing: they’re trying to get it all done. They’re cramming for tests. Theyre pulling all-nighters. They’re asking questions like “will this be on the exam?” They’re trying to get extensions on assignments. They’re looking for a magic bullet that will enable them to get the grade they want while putting in the effort they have available.

The Unintentional Learner says “yes” to anything…

…that may be considered a good opportunity. This student is over-committed, over-worked, and over-stressed. The things in his life that he put there out of passion are, instead, sources of pain and misery.

Any idea where that will land you? At the end of a very long line at a career fair, hoping desperately to say something interesting and memorable when you get your thirty seconds with the HR rep from your dream job.

Wow. That’s not very difficult to out-perform…

The Intentional Learner sees things a bit different.

Rather than seeing grades as the be-all end-all of education, the Intentional Learner sees performance in classes as one of many considerations in a delicate trade space. The Intentional Learner is working a bigger plan than merely surviving this semester. She is building a portfolio of experiences that make her the perfect candidate for her dream job. Not because she selfishly dreams of prosperity for its own sake, but because she knows that the world needs something only she has to offer. No one else can make the specific impact that she is built for.

What year are you? How many times have you searched for jobs to see what people with your degree actually get hired out of college to do? If you’re typical, the answer is zero (unless you’re a graduating senior). Do you find it even remotely disturbing that you’re spending a life savings on a degree that you’ve never actually researched? Most students spend longer planning their spring break vacations than they do choosing a major or a career.

Anyone can find joy, make a genuine contribution, and earn a fantastic income in any field. That’s not the issue. The issue is whether the people who are winning with your degree are doing the things you want to be doing.

  • The Unintentional Learner is saying “yes” to anything that comes his way, doing mediocre work in each. These are the students who put “Microsoft Office” on their resumes.
  • Meanwhile the Intentional Learner is saying “yes” to the most essential things, and actually excelling at them.
  • The Intentional Learner isn’t standing in line at some career fair. He’s too busy changing the world.

Are you ready to take the first step towards Intentional Learning? Sign up for the Intentional Academy Email List. No spam, just a first point of contact. As the community grows I’ll share additional resources to help you on your way. As a first gift, I’ll send you a copy of my free eBook, Break Free | 4 Tactics Top Performing Students Use to Eliminate Stress. I hope that removing stress from your life will buy you precious headroom to start seeing school for what it is and using school for what it’s worth

Cheers to your future. May it be filled with hope and passion!

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