Pass Your Test, Then Start Learning

I look back at school a lot like I looked at learning to drive. When you learn to drive you learn to do all these precise ordered movements and actions when executing manoeuvres, and these collections of instructions make sense so you memorise them for the test where you recite these definitions physically to show you “know” how to drive.

I remember vividly making excessive effort to show I was looking in this mirror, followed by this mirror, followed by checking my blind spot, followed by indicating….you get the point. I passed my test on the fourth time of asking, just for full disclosure, I failed once because I gestured to a pedestrian that I would wait so they could cross, this constituted a fail because I had risked the pedestrian’s life because my gesture suggested there were no other threats such as a motorcyclist passing at that moment. Frankly I think that is up to the pedestrian to decide but she was not under test conditions at the time so go figure.

My point here is that when we learn to drive we memorise what we need to do, without really caring why it is defined that way, because we are only interested in the freedom of the road. In the same way, we only memorise in school because we are told that giving these memorised answers will get us a good grade and prove we understand the material. Unfortunately, as with driving, we never truly understand a topic until we get practical with it.

I passed my driving test and when I was alone on the road I realised that my passed test was just proof that I could recite the textbook definitions, not that I knew how to drive. When it came to physics, I could recite the textbook definition for planetary systems and the paths of planets, but I could not tell you where a given planet would be at a given time and date. I learnt to drive over the years following my passed test, which might sound scary but lets be honest in that we all had the same experience.

The same can be said for other subjects, particularly those we did in school. Maybe we really engrossed ourselves in higher education when we could choose the subjects we studied, this was the first step into freedom to learn and the realisation that education is independent of institutions and all about self belief and effort.

I left school with 11 C’s, I went to college (twice) picking subjects from the subset available at my local colleges, and then I opted out of going to university because I finally realised that my “knowledge and ability” was going to be determined by a faceless examiner that would decide my future based on a trivial exam paper and coursework.

Instead I went into the real world finally and learned the cold hard truth of having no specific path in life. I worked packing cigarettes, selling paint, nightclub security, and finally joined the Royal Marines training programme to test my resolve. It was hard work and I gained a lot from the experience that led to my current path. The night I returned home from training for the final time I bumped into a friend and we talked about how I had got to where I was, I explained I had no idea what I was going to do next and he suggested I learn web development as it was freely available online if you were willing to put in the effort to seek out the information (alternatively you could pay a service that has done the hard work for you, you just need to consume the material they give you). I spent a week learning html and css from a free online resource, and most importantly I put it into practice by making terrible web pages and breaking things and fixing them and understanding how to do things with a web page, not just recite the css box model or the semantics of html.

What I gained from the Royal Marines was the realisation that I was capable of anything, my body could do more than my mind was telling me and if I just persevered I would reach the other side and push on just at the moment I thought about quitting. After 1 week of learning html and css, I got a job within 4 weeks and did some freelance jobs…the rest is history.

The takeaway from all this is to not rely on certificates and qualifications, they are not a fair indicator or ability. Get the experience and put it into practice to prove your worth to another.