Though I always loved school no matter what age I was, most folks would tell you that they didn’t. I had an insatiable curiosity to learn things. Well, I still do have that insatiable curiosity. And if I were to give you one piece of advice on how to stay passionate about life it would be this:  allow yourself to be curious. And follow those threads of curiosity.

I’m sure many folks believe that the education system isn’t set up for happiness. Students pile into classes together, learn at the same pace, and have to explore topics that teachers say that they have to explore, whether at elementary school, high school, or college.

What begins as curiosity soon turns into something totally different: squashing of the imagination. It’s not about what the student wants to learn, but what they’re expected to learn.

That can tank anyone’s desire to learn. Which is a shame because even though I’m now in my fifties, I can tell you that following a thread of curiosity has brought me closer to the heart of who I always longed to be.

And though learning new things can be a good incentive for many, sometimes the issue isn’t the material, but the other folks in the classroom. No, I’m not talking about the teachers. It’s the other students.

Being thrown into a group of peers and having the expectation that things will be just fine can be a challenge for many students.

Being surrounded by people who don’t get you – or worse are bullies (aka mean girls) can destroy any spark of curiosity about learning.

The statistics on depression among those in education are shocking. Around 20 percent of teens experience clinically significant depression before they reach adulthood. A fifth of young people in a state of depression is an indication that there’s something horribly wrong with how education is set up.

I share this because whether you’re contemplating heading back to school yourself. Or parenting kiddos that are embarking on their educational years, you need to be aware of that.

Few people believe that the problem is the fact that kids don’t like learning. All of the evidence from the lab and the field seems to indicate otherwise. We seem to be biologically programmed to want to learn about the world and master it.

It makes sense: that’s what evolution would give us if we wanted to become expert survivors in a dangerous environment. Plus, when people have freedom, they tend to spend most of their time educating themselves about one aspect of reality or another. People develop keen interests in things like physics, music, math, writing, and just about anything else you can imagine.

Learning is the normal state of being it seems. And, again, I believe that begins with curiosity.

If you’re heading back to school, how can you ensure that you allow yourself to be curious rather than stressed? In what ways can you insulate yourself a bit from social pressures?

And what can you do to help your children better adapt to a less than perfect educational system?

Though I can’t cover every single thing, here are four useful strategies to foster curiosity and improve how you (or your child) feels.

One – Don’t Worry About Failure: It’s Normal

The education system is not friendly to failure. People who don’t get the grades that their teachers and lecturers feel that they should are punished. They can’t progress to the next stage in their academic careers, and they don’t get the same career opportunities. It’s a nightmare.

But while the consequences of failure can seem severe, it doesn’t mean that you have to live with the fear of failure. In fact, many of the happiest and rational people in the world accept failure as something that will exist no matter what.

It’s worth pointing out that failure is the normal state of the world. Most people fail more than they succeed, even celebrated intellectuals. Failure is essential information that you’re doing something wrong and need to correct it. It tells you that something in your thinking is incorrect, and it’s an opportunity to change it. It’s actually a chance to get better at whatever it is that you’re struggling with, not something to avoid at all costs.

Two – Foster Your Curiosity by Being Proactive

Education isn’t something that happens passively – not usually anyway. The best way to exist in the education system is to pursue the topics presented to you proactively. Yes, learn the material, but also be critical of it. Find a kernel of interest in it that transforms it from being mundane and into something genuinely engaging. This is following a thread of curiosity.

If your teachers take one approach, find out whether there are others. Explore ideas until you feel as if you have fluency in them, and then deploy them in ways that make you feel as if you’re getting closer to the truth.

Treating education as a voyage of discovery helps to open it up. It’s not about learning the material in textbooks; it’s about exploring some aspect of reality and mastering it. If you become truly proficient, it’s good for not only improving your SAT score but helping you feel that the whole project is worthwhile.

Three – Live According to Your Expectations Rather than the Expectations Of Others

While the expectations of parents, teachers, and others in your life might be high, you don’t get an education for them. Their taking pride in your accomplishments or sorrow in your failures is nothing to do with the purpose of education.

The whole point of the experience is to build your skills so that you have a better chance of achieving what you want to get out of life. You can sustain your love of learning and curiosity about the world around you when you define success for yourself.

The people who succeed most in structured educational environments are those who develop a love of a particular subject. When education is about the world “out there” and not the opinions of other people, it suddenly becomes much more enjoyable. The real world is mysterious and sometimes mind-boggling. But mastery of it provides you with a sense of satisfaction and confidence you rarely find elsewhere.

Four – Cultivate Your Curiosity by Setting Goals

Finally, to be happy in education, you need to understand why you’re doing it. If there’s no “why,” then there’s little motivation for doing all the study requires. You simply float through without much direction.

The reason for doing what you’re doing has to come from somewhere deep within you. At the core of everything should be a fundamental motivation. This motivation could be something like wanting to have a specific career or level of income. Whatever it is, it must be something that is a genuine motivating factor in your life. A goal like “I must work for two hours every evening” doesn’t tap into your desires in a way that genuine goals do.

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