This spring, I’ve asked my students to select an independent learning goal. Because the subject matter of the course is organizational fit and the meaning of work, many students selected goals connected to their professional identities. But I gave students a lot of leverage here; the purpose of this assignment is to reflect on a process or self-directed learning, and to understand more about their own individual learning trajectories. In this sense, ANY goal works and is valuable to helping us understand more about our interests, motivations, and processes.
Some students are working on professional skills like public speaking, designing effective presentations, and learning advanced Excel functions, and other students are learning to cook Indian food, sketching, and hip hop dancing.
At its core, this assignment is about carving out time for curiosity, for creative exploration. Why is it so hard to make time for the things we really want to learn?
I find myself preoccupied with this a lot, as I inhabit a lot of different identities in the way that I see work and creativity. I love my job and am committed to the mission of teaching, but I also occupy “shadow” identities as a writer and a performer which are of great personal significance to me.
The mental demands of modern life mean that we’re all juggling a lot of roles, tasks, and identities related to the whole of our lives, which makes shelving our creative identities easier, especially is that work feels “extra” to who we are, or doesn’t pay the bills.
Yesterday the poet Mary Oliver died; my social media feeds burgeoned with quotes from her beautiful writing. One friend posted a link to her 2015 interview (a rare occurance) with Krista Tippett. Mary Oliver’s primary identity was creative, as a poet, and in this interview she talked about the importance of discipline to building creative habits:
The choreographer Twyla Tharp also writes about the importance of discipline and routine in establishing creative habits. “Before you can think out of the box,” she writes in The Creative Habit, “you have to start with a box.”
Creative appointments can be boxes of sorts, which lend structure, urgency, and gravity to the process of creative learning and exploration. This spring, I am making creative appointments with myself and KEEPING THEM even when things get rough. I am not trying to fit the pieces of my creative life and goals into the rest of my schedule, but trying to prioritize my own learning and creative growth every day.
I have appointments all the time in my professional life - meetings with students and colleagues, and i even schedule appointments for myself to work on professional tasks like class planning. I honor those appointments because I understand their value. This semester I want to try to apply the same kinds of discipline to my creative life and identities as I do to my work life.
I know that things will fall by the wayside, and that will I need to adjust my expectations of myself in other areas if I’m going to commit to these appointments. But I hope that reflecting on my process will help me develop skills in being more disciplined and creative in the way I approach ALL of my identities.