what happened to the joy of learning?

Regular Thursday night in grad school: brain to capacity, at all times. Evidently, the wonders of the central nervous system is not very impressive to my own central nervous system, as no more than 2% of what I was reading had been retained.

I remember when I would be fascinated by whatever I encountered: unnamed botanicals that I tripped over on a walk, the way certain consonants and vowels link together and becomes a symbol of a tangible object, the different shades that water and mountain take on the colors of a sunset, tracing out constellations on a clear night with my breath fogging up my vision. I craved to learn, to know more, to know deeper, and I’d flip through pages of atlases and dictionaries and chronicles until aha!, I find something that interconnects whatever was befuddling only a moment before.

The older I get, the less I am enamored with learning. The whole thing has become a chore because suddenly, my success is dependent on how I know what I know. It’s not good enough that I want to learn, but I have to learn certain things certain way, and re-demonstrate what I know on tests, responding accordingly to the way that questions are phrased. And if I learn something wrong, or not in the way the teachers meant for me to respond, then it becomes a hard game to play, because even though I may understand what I was supposed to learn, I may interpret the specific exam questions differently than the professor meant for me to understand and respond. The longer I have been a student the more I am learning for the sake of testing well, lest my self-image and sense of worthiness and potential future career outlook go asunder alongside my suboptimal exams.

I used to be captivated by learning and knowing things, understanding the whys and hows and whats. Now it’s just to pass the test. And I really hate that. During one of our woe-be-us study pow-wows, a classmate and friend stopped and said, you can’t be hungry for knowledge if you’re stuffed all the time.

I want to like learning again. The luminaries of science and arts, of any disciplines really, were often regular people who were in love with learning and knowing more, and that internal hunger leads them onwards, instead having of fear of failure driving them, which is, unfortunately, often my case. But I don’t think it’s uniquely my case: education in almost every culture has become a bargain: you learn this much, you receive this much acknowledgement, which allows you to attain something (a position, a degree, and so forth). Education has become such an agenda, one with desperate timeline. What if you fail and don’t get the grade/job/promotion? What if you don’t make it in time to submit the grant proposal? Where would you get the funds?

The What If’s freak me out and I lose the focus of why I am learning: because I like to know more about the body and how we live our lives in them, and how to make things better when things don’t work as they should. I want to make people feel better about having their bodies back again. And it’s hard to remember the why when I am inundated by the what, and even worse, the what if‘s. 

I want the joy of learning back.

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9 thoughts on “what happened to the joy of learning?

  1. I completely understand how you feel. I miss the days of recreational reading, and researching to satisfy a curiosity instead of write a paper. I hope that, when graduation comes and goes, learning is fun again. I think it will be. Keep fighting the good fight!

    • Thank you for your support! It’s hard to remember the larger picture when I’m laser-focused on getting through the assignments at hand. But clinicals remind me of why I chose this path, and I look forward to where it might lead me, despite the current struggles.

  2. This totally reminds me of what a professor said today in class, “Don’t answer how you think I want you to answer.” The room filled with chuckles and scoffs because grades mean to much to take that risk. I think as we transition from student to clinician, we will have to remember our love for learning to not become stagnant to save us from burn out and our patients from receiving less-than-superior care,.

    • One of our favorite (and sometimes least favorite) professors have always said, “Yes…until it’s No.” Which means we never have a “correct” answer on his exams, but it’s so true that for a patient the answers are rarely ever black-and-white.

      I’m really encouraged by the mutual support of future PT’s, and you are absolutely right, we shall keep our perspectives straight and not burn out. Onward. :)

      • So true. I just had my first clinical. When my CI would ask me a question, I would get so nervous searching for the right answer. She drilled it into me that there are often more right answers than wrong.

        Good luck with classes and school. Just remember, it all works out.

  3. This is a great post. I know what you mean – I took a gap year after high school and when I actually felt “hungry” to learn during my freshman year of college, it was the BEST FEELING.

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