What do you do for fun?

By Ray DePaul

When I was 10 years old, I considered myself an amateur chemist. I had received a chemistry set for my birthday and couldn't wait to mix different chemicals together in an effort to rival my first vinegar and baking soda experiment. I had no idea what I was doing, but I was doing! As I ran out of official chemicals to try, I started to improvise. My boldest idea was to see what would happen if I heated a test tube of gasoline over an open flame. Now I wasn't stupid, so for protection I melted a candle in the top of the test tube to make sure none of that flammable stuff got out. The resulting explosion was much cooler than the vinegar-based experiments, but for some reason, my parents started to pay a little more attention to what I was doing locked in my room.

I must admit that I slowly lost my thirst for learning with abandonment. Learning became a chore. It was reduced to something that I would do to get a good grade or advance my career. I was lucky that I chose the technology industry, so I was forced to keep learning, but I can't say I ever regained the exhilaration of actually experiencing combustion in my bedroom.

Fortunately for all of us, there are people that never lose that love of learning. I'm proud to know a really impressive accounting student who is mastering everything the university puts in front of him, has started a few companies, is "trying out" different career paths through internships, and reads voraciously. As we talked one day about his busy life, I asked him what he did for fun. His eyes lit up as he told me about the online course he's taking in artificial intelligence! He loves to learn. This is what separates him from most of the students or professionals that I know. I expect I will be working for him one day.

I believe formal education and the pursuit of marks above all else plays a major role in removing the joy from learning. For those of us that lost that spark, it's time to find it again. It can be as simple as starting with a question. What happens when you heat up gasoline? Why all the hype around artificial intelligence? Why do electric cars have a limited range? Should I care about GMO food? Why does it cost so much to make a movie? Is it true that disco is a first cousin of hip hop?

Then, simply start digging into the question and follow the thread where ever it goes. Don't be satisfied by wikipedia's short answer, really dig in. Read a book, take a Lynda course (now free through the Calgary Public Library!), watch a couple of documentaries, listen to a podcast, or have coffee with an expert or two.

One more thing class. There's no test, no double-spaced report, and no deadline.