Having recently had an opportunity to engage with some esteemed academic leaders, I must admit that I am simultaneously envious and grateful. Envious of their opportunity to be a professional THINKer and grateful for the things about which I am afforded the opportunity to think. Now I have never been a fan of school. A fan of learning, yes; a fan of school, no. The former is an attribute many people in my life share and in my opinion represents one of the healthiest ways to live…a life of continual learning. The latter is my own flaw more than it is a reflection on my schooling environment. I say that because my goal in school was not learning, and if you are not interested in learning, THINKing is not required; my goal was to complete the requirements. I wasn’t concerned with getting an A, I was consumed with doing well enough. I freely admit that I have learned far more outside the classroom than I did inside it. Both were and are choices. Yesteryear, I did not care enough to make the most of the opportunities provided me by my academic coaches and since my school daze, I deliberately seek out opportunities to learn. That is to say that since learning is no longer a specified task, it has become a personal desire.
Over the past few weeks, I have been fortunate to interact with some amazing THINKers affiliated with some amazing universities. Yes, they teach; yes, they write; and yes, they do research. All are extremely important behaviors of an academic professional, but above all, they THINK. In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell wrote of the 10,000-hour rule. The theory is that it takes someone 10,000 hours of doing something to become an expert (or at least realize their potential) in that something. These THINKers spend their days reading about, engaging in dialogue on, and experimenting with ideas directly related to their profession. They explore ideas informed by the research they do day in and day out. They use the written and spoken word to share their thoughts and partner with others passionate on the subject matter to more fully develop the collective knowledge base. When the masses are stuck in the whirlwind of what is, they are THINKing about what might, should, and/or will be. They get paid to THINK. And it is their THINKing that shapes our future. As one who carves out time each day to THINK, I envy them and the good fortune that is the life of a professional THINKer.
THINKing need not be a luxury, but some of us have to be more deliberate about carving out time to THINK than others. I have witnessed many people who follow directions and execute tasks as part of their jobs. They don’t do much THINKing. Many of these individuals speak of their profession, but their actions make it clear that their livelihood is but a series of jobs, which is very different from a profession. Though I am not an academic, I am fortunate in that my days are spent continually learning, THINKing and doing. What I learn, THINK about, and do is directly tied to the experiences of the day. After all, we spend the majority of our waking day at the workplace no matter how we define it. With each hour we spend, we get closer to that 10,000-hour milestone. We can use the time to develop expertise or just survive. As I have told my son repeatedly, how we spend our time determines what we become good at. Given his current interests, it can be swimming, computer programming, video gaming, music or any combination thereof. The more we do something, the better we become at that something. So it is best if that something is worthwhile, which brings me to being grateful. Grateful for the challenges and opportunities associated with my current responsibilities about which I get to THINK, and even more exciting are solutions offered from across the team of which I am a part. Just as I told my son, we develop skills that are directly related to how we spend our time. In addition to how we spend our time, we also are heavily influenced by the people with whom we spend the majority of our time. And the people with whom I spend my days are amazing. They THINK about things I never had reason to. They solve problems that many don’t even know exist. And they shape what will be while most are trying to make sense of what is. I have had jobs that required me to THINK about things that I was not passionate about and subjects in which I did not aspire to mastery. As a result, I was both not overly passionate about my role and I was acquiring skills about which I was not overly interested. Neither is the case right now and I hope that it is never the situation again.
So while I remain envious of professional THINKers, I am grateful for the subjects about which my profession is affording me the opportunity to THINK.
- Are you a THINKer?
- What are you THINKing about?
- Who are you THINKing with?