Imagine if you could win at life by just showing up? Well, just by enrolling at AU you have! Sure, there’s work to be done but that first step towards scholastic success is a crucial one. Cards on the table, it’s time to put up or shut up, academically. You’re enrolled, so let’s roll. It’s all up to us to sink or swim with the help of our tutors, and to be our own motivational motor. You’re free to make and break your own timetables and therein lies the existential challenge of distance education: learning what stuff we’re made of in the process.
We just might learn about our authentic selves too. Soren Kierkegaard summarized life’s wonderful potential for personal flourishing: “we must move, he exclaimed, from mechanized/externalized/anonymous life to one that is centred in the subject and, what is more, struggles for the truth of that subject” (in Mendelowitz and Schneider, 300, and check out PSYCH 630). The subject in this instance is you! Our sense of self speaks through all that we do and grows as we learn. The subjects of our studies, meanwhile, are important, but add up to little if our subjectivity doesn’t grow along the way. Sometimes, the struggle is real.
The going isn’t always easy at AU; I’ve vacantly stared at my share of walls while waiting for the study inspiration to strike. Unlike brick-and-mortar classrooms there’s no professor to prod and goad us, or to entertain with chatty wit and woolly anecdotes of past hi-jinks. We must be our own taskmasters, with music of our choice perhaps. Whatever our beat, if it gets our study wheels a-churning that’s a good thing. A country music song I recently heard on the radio (if you hate country, please read it with your favourite genre of tune playing in the background!) goes:
“If you got a chance, take it, take it while you got a chance
If you got a dream, chase it, ’cause a dream won’t chase you back
If you’re gonna love somebody
Hold ’em as long and as strong and as close as you can
‘Til you can’t” (Johnson, online).
The dream of a degree is a step closer once we’ve enrolled, and now we just have to live up to our expectations of ourselves. Our future selves will love us for giving our all.
We’ve Paid Some Lettuce, So Let Us Give it Our Best(us)!
We may have won the intellectual lottery of potential by becoming AU students; for some of us it’s the best choice we could have made for our studies. It’s up to us to seize the space we’ve carved out in our life, and to remember that not everyone in our realm will understand our new vocation as an isolated hermit-scholar. They may, for instance, suspect we’re using studying as an excuse to avoid social outings (by the way, nothing wrong with that excuse!) Or they might envision our studies as merely a hobby or pet project no different than volunteering at an animal shelter or learning to tie flies. Those are great things to do but AU is different in that we have to literally sit like toads on a toadstool and really get the inner realm of our brain activated. Academia isn’t hands-on, it’s brains-in. The passage from student to scholar is silent and invisible to the external senses, like a plant growing in a garden that will one day meet its destiny as a delicious salad.
An early existentialist philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), has much to say for the value of solitude as a means to growth:
“One can very well eat lettuce before its heart has been formed; still, the delicate crispness of the heart and its lovely frizz are something altogether different from the leaves. It is the same in the world of the spirit. Being too busy has this result: that an individual very, very rarely is permitted to form a heart; on the other hand, the thinker, the poet, or the religious personality who actually has formed his heart, will never be popular, not because he is difficult, but because it demands quiet and prolonged working with oneself and intimate knowledge of oneself as well as a certain isolation.” (Kierkegaard in Popova, online).
This is not to say that we can expect final answers out of our individualized studies. As textbooks change with the times and with successive editorial changes, so too do our minds whirl and evolve throughout our lives. To be at a final resting place might even be akin to moving backwards on the journey of self-discovery. Kierkegaard claims that: “in regard to Truth, this troublesome monster, the majority, the public, etc., fares in the same way as we say of someone who is travelling to regain his health: he is always one station behind.” (in Popova, online). The truth of ourselves may be something we grow into and only really know in our minds. That’s okay.
Academic isolation, uncomfortable at times, is almost like a ghost course in itself. Learning to cope with and overcome the challenges of individualized study pays big dividends in what I’d call motivational courage. Kierkegaard provides a final rejoinder which, far from a boot in our backsides, can charm us into submission to the joy of solitude in our scholastic exercises: “The yardstick for a human being is: how long and to what degree he can bear to be alone, devoid of understanding with others” (in Popova, online).
So, to everyone new to AU, enjoy the fruits of your victory! By signing up, you’ve taken the first step into a unique and private realm as rewarding as it is enlightening. May each of us grow in leaps and bounds on our journey.