Monday, March 21, 2016

Getting An Education


Letter to a Young Man Who Is Wondering If He Should Pursue His Education


            Ah, grad school.  Of course, the answer is YES. 

            Education is one of the few things in life that is truly yours, that stays with you throughout your life.  No one gets to steal it from you or tell you that you can’t have it, use it, and treasure it. 

            Developing your mind is one of the great opportunities a person has to truly grow and become what you potentially can be in life. 

            It is a lifelong journey, this education of one’s self.  I’m a lifelong learner, and have a burning curiosity about the world and everything that is in it.  And, part of that is learning about me, how I learn, how I think, how I see myself in this world.  And, who I am, who I have been, how I have been conditioned and trained to live.

            Sometimes, what I learn about myself isn’t all chocolate and roses, either.  I am flawed, imperfect, not who I think I am capable of being.  Well, good to know, so now I am challenged to improve myself, to change, and to become better, more of the person I can be.  More importantly, I can become the person I should be. 

            So, you haven’t done this before.  This challenge is new and different, and you have your doubts, your uncertainties. 

            Good, because that has also been true for you (and for me and for other thinking people) for every stage in our lives.  And, it will continue.  That doubting, uncertainty, is part of the growing process, part of the fuel that gets us out of bed in the morning, and ready to keep learning and growing. 

            Yesterday, C*** was talking about the chicks that are starting to hatch.  Hatching is an enormous struggle.  They have to do it on their own.  If they get help, then they likely die.  They have to turn themselves in the egg, positioning themselves in one end of the egg, by tucking their heads under their right wing, and making the move.  Then, they have to peck a hole in the shell, to take their first breath of air.  Slowly, they peck around a circle, so they have an opening to push themselves out of the shell and into the world. 

            It is hard work.  They are exhausted. But, now they can grow and achieve their destiny.

            We are like chicks.  We have to struggle, and the struggle often takes a long time.  We develop, we breathe, and we gain our strength.  Much of the work is done on our own. 

            In that work, we find that we really do have the stamina, the resiliency, the determination to accomplish something.  We own it.  It is ours, this work, this moving ahead in our lives. 

            Others think that you can do this work, that you are worthy of it.  You need to hear their voices and to realize that you are being supported and encouraged.  We all need that. 

            So much of this world is about relationship.  Yesterday, several of us in the garden had the opportunity to have a lesson on “please and thank you”.  One youth didn’t think it was important, that he could just ask for something, and he’d get that, without those “unnecessary words”.  Yet, those words are part of the relationship, the social contract we need to have in society to get things done and to interrelate with other people. 

            Grad school and the whole college experience is part of that process.  Working together, and finding the role for you that helps get things done, that brings out your own unique strengths and tools, which also need to fit with others’ strengths and tools.  The collective effort, the collective process.

            “College” means a collaboration, a collective process. 

            You can have all the brains in the world, but if you can’t work with others, and communicate and interrelate, and collectively move forward with shared ideas and direction, then you are lost, and not very effective in life. 

            I think it’s important to have those college experiences where you interact and interrelate, where you collaborate.  So much of life is based on those skills and those experiences. 

            Your guitar lessons are more than music theory and getting better at a particular song or chord pattern or strumming pattern.  It is interaction, listening, responding, contributing, and collaborating. 

            One of the primary functions I serve when I come to OYA (the youth prison where I mentor youth) is to be a teacher of social skills. It is how to have coffee with someone, how to play cards, or talk.  It is how to repot a plant together, or analyze a plant pest.  Something more than the outwardly mundane task is going on. 

            I’m working as a judge again, part time, for a few months.  So much of that work is about diagnosing and healing relationships, and getting people to interact with each other in an efficient, healthy way.  The law is a tool for that, but the real work is the human interaction, where people can communicate in a productive, positive way.  In many ways, judging is trying to heal society and social interactions. 

            And, so is the work of the educated person, working in relationship, and being effective in that work.  Bringing people and ideas together, and developing solutions that are effective and meaningful.  There’s a lot of education going on.

            When I finished law school and the bar exam, I thought, well, my education is over with.  Ha!  That work had only just begun.  I continue to teach myself, to have others teach me, and for me to teach others. 

            Grad school is about honing those skills, sharpening your mind so that you are even a better teacher. 

            I don’t want you to finish grad school when you are still at OYA.  There’s the whole collaborative, collegial interaction process that you need to experience.  I want you to explore the swamp with your fellow students, and muck around together, collaborating, interacting, and learning about each other. 

            Yeah, you are great at learning theory and the technical stuff on line and in books.  But, I also want you to roll up your sleeves and interact with people like yourself, and really get to know each other, and have to work together, to collaborate.  Yes, to be “collegial”. 

            You worry about what you would do if you don’t get into grad school while you are at OYA, and “have a year and a half with nothing to do”. 

            Grad school can wait.  You are young.  If you don’t find the “perfect fit” for you now, then there are reasons for that, and there are more opportunities in the future.  And, your education isn’t miraculously done when you turn 25 either.  It is a lifelong journey. 

            In that year and a half, you can create other options, other opportunities.  You have a unique perspective, and you can teach others what you have learned, you can create new experiences for youth, and you can become a better researcher and writer. 

            You are also not limited in how many degrees you can get in your life, or skills that you develop and improve. 

            I took a year and a half off between college and law school.  That time gave me great experiences, and I became a better, more purposeful person.  That time made me a better lawyer, father and husband.  It was not “wasted” time.  I had a great job, which taught me so much about the world, and about myself.

            We all have choices.  We all have barriers.  We can all sabotage our own efforts and our own opportunities, because we think we are “not good enough”.  Yet, we have choices.  We can choose to see life as a barrier, or as an opportunity. 

            My brief time with your Aunt *** allowed me to hear her very clearly impart to you some great wisdom, including looking at this time in your life as a great opportunity, a time to really see your own potential and your own skills, and do something with all that. 

            You heard her say that, from her heart, and you took that message deep into your own heart.  Choose that message as your family legacy, and build something with it. 

            You are not wasting your time.  You are, in fact, doing great things to improve yourself and to expand your potential.  I hope you see that, and treasure all that for what it is—an enormous personal asset. 

            You know how to learn.  You know how to move ahead. You know many of your skills and talents, and you know how to gain more skills and talents.  Most people don’t know that, and the challenge of teaching others is to light that candle of passion and self curiosity, so that people can really see what potential they have.

            So many of your peers haven’t lit that bonfire for themselves.  They see the water glass of their lives as half empty, maybe even dry, rather than half full and having the potential of being a great flowing spring of water that will abundantly nourish their lives. 

            You’ve told me that one of your dreams is to make or raise a lot of money, so that others in prison can fully realize their dreams.  You are learning how to do that for yourself right now, so you really are researching how to implement your dream.  That is good work.  Be proud of that work, and that dream. 

            This is a good time in life for you, and you are in a good process and experience.  Enjoy it.   Enjoy the doubts, the barriers, the struggles.  There is no “bad outcome” in all of this.  It is part of the journey.

Respectfully,



Neal Lemery

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