“Average is officially over. When I graduated from college I got to find a job; my girls have to invent theirs. I attended college to learn skills for life, and lifelong learning for me afterward was a hobby. My girls went to college to learn the skills that could garner them their first job, and lifelong learning for them is a necessity for every job thereafter.”
― Thomas L. Friedman,
Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations
Service has better prepared me for everything in my life, especially with a rapidly changing economy in what the American journalist, Thomas Friedman, has coined as “the Age of Accelerations”.
When youth are thinking about the course and direction of their lives—usually about the time they enter their junior year of high school—they begin to ask critical questions of themselves such as
“What will be my profession and where will I go to school?”
Some may simply ask questions such as
“How will I make money and what job will let me do that?”
Some youth, if they’ve grown up in a family that laid particular emphasis on the importance of serving, might ask questions such as “is it possible for me to take off a period of time to offer full-time service?” and “where can I serve and what type of service can I offer during that time?” Some youth wind-up going on a mission trip, or serving through organizations such as the Peace Corps, or even relocating and living in a neighborhood that shows particular receptivity to the idea of community-building and grassroots problem-solving.
For me, I was on the academic train (like all my friends in my peer group) and nothing was going to stop me from becoming a (then-hoped-for) veterinarian, from the #2 school in the country. So I plowed through my studies and earned high grades… and then… I didn’t continue on to graduate school. Why?
“Why?” was exactly the question I was asking myself. I couldn’t quite place it, but my current trajectory felt off and I didn’t know what to do with myself.
Coincidentally, this was the experience for many in my generation. To make things worse, I graduated undergraduate the same year as the financial crisis of 2008, and a deep pessimism of the framework for our economy was sown into my consciousness. I was also feeling a deep desire for purpose and contribution, and for reasons I couldn’t articulate, my degree didn’t feel like it was going to be able to achieve that.
I floundered for 6 months—picking-up unrelated jobs until I found a potential answer to my internal crisis: I needed to serve in the most meaningful way that I could, and the system that would allow me to do that was through the programs of the Training Institute using the Ruhi materials. These books use the teachings of the Bahá’í Faith to help individuals, institutions, and communities to develop the requisite qualities, attitudes, skills, and abilities needed to effectively contribute to constructive change in an evolving local and global environment. I was hooked by the study and the corresponding actions and began to serve as many hours as I could every week; taking on jobs that allowed for as much flexibility as possible.
I spent the majority of my 20’s this way and it was the best education I could have ever received.
I am now an entrepreneur! And I believe this has positioned me to better work, serve, and raise my family as the local and global economy changes. Increasingly, all people will need to develop the skills, qualities, and attitudes that will help them to generate, apply, and disseminate knowledge to solve society’s challenges and create a more harmonious civilization. It was clear to me that our current educational model wasn’t going to be enough to do this—not in the “Age of Accelerations” in which all members of the human race will have to become, as Thomas Friedman put it, “life-long learners.” Full-time focused service allowed me to develop, what I believe, are critical in the newly emerging economy:
1) Vision-Setting, Planning, and Action
Being able to constantly ask oneself the “why” of what you are doing is so critical to all our endeavors. Often, we carry out tasks in our lives because that’s what’s expected of us or is the prescription for a “happy life” as determined by others. Every day, as an entrepreneur I ask myself “why am I doing this and is this serving the highest good possible?” I learned this skill in community building. Vision is so critical in motivation and ensuring that when we arrive at our destination, it is a destination worthy to be at. Also, there is no way to arrive at a vision unless we’ve made a strategic plan, on a timeline, on how we will get there with clearly set goals and metrics for progress. School tried to teach me this, but it was ultimately the framework for learning in action through service where I mastered it.
As students go on to higher education, many struggle with this much-needed capacity. Up until that point, nearly every hour of their lives was determined for them. The University experience can be a real test for those who aren’t used to reflecting on how they spend their time, identifying priorities, and creating strategies that allow them to be as effective as possible with their limited time. Since I was the driver of my actions in service, I had to constantly refine my capacity to do this. As an entrepreneur I do this every day—no one tells me when or how I should work and it’s up to me to be proactive with my self-set schedule.
I can’t stress how important this mode of operation is for the future. No longer can we say that our current academic model will be sufficient for a rapidly evolving world. It will be up to every individual to develop the requisite qualities and attitudes such as curiosity, creativity, humility, flexibility, and adaptability, to continue to contribute to our advancing civilization. This fundamentally means ownership—we need to own our own learning process and be actively engaged in it. No more picking up grades and degrees to just get jobs. No. The coming generations need a deeper purpose in their lives and this will come from asking questions and developing the ownership over their own advancement.
I am a completely changed person because of service and I earnestly encourage every parent to consider how they might create an environment that allows their children to explore in what ways they can pursue an education AND serve their communities. Fundamentally, I believe it is a re-conceptualization of our understanding of education that will advance mankind towards a spiritually and materially prosperous future.
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