Are We Any Smarter?

I posted this article a couple of weeks ago as a little reminder that we’re all doing OK. Don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re smarter now than you were five years ago… right? We were discussing this in our super secret super special Literally, Darling writer’s Facebook group for the rest of the afternoon. “Am I really smarter than I was five years ago?” “Is there any way I could write an essay on anything I even learned in college?” “What’s a derivative? I don’t even remember.”

Five years ago, I was a sophomore at Brigham Young University and diving headfirst into my academic love affair with philosophical powerhouses Soren Kierkegaard and William James. I justified my Gossip Girl binge-watching habits because I’d spent eight hours of the day reading Kant. I love trashy TV. I love silly summer novels about girls who rent out beach houses and fall in love with lifeguards. I love it even more when I can come home from work, jump on the couch and zone out for the next five hours without any schoolwork looming over my head.

It did not take long before my new habits started to manifest themselves in daily life. I couldn’t keep up anymore, and my head was filled with nothing but plot lines from my 500th rewatch of The Hills. Cue another stereotypical post-grad identity crisis. But as always, my dad gave me some great advice. He told me that you don’t have to be in school to learn. You don’t need a PhD to be smart. Seems obvious, right? But I needed to be reminded that if I wanted to stay sharp, I had to put in the effort without the pop quizzes and deadlines I’d grown accustomed to. I needed to relearn how to learn.

Below are the five things I’ve added to my daily routine to make sure I’m not mistaken for a Real Housewife of Atlanta.

1. Podcasts

I’m still obsessed with these things like it’s 2007. I listen daily on my commute, at the gym, on my lunch break, while I’m doing the dishes, you get the idea. Some of my favorites include Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History, RadioLab, This American Life, TED Talks, Planet Money, etc. Podcasts are like listening to lectures on subjects you actually care about, and they’re free!

2. Read out of your comfort zone

I still struggle with this one. I’d rather spend my evenings reading GRRM’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” than the classics. (Not to say that “ASOIAF” is not a classic, because it is, or that it’s an easy read, because it isn’t. I am obsessed with this series. But you get my point).  Recently though, I’ve been reading The Scarlet Letter alongside my 16-year-old brother, and this book that I unwillingly trudged through in high school suddenly became rich and alive and something to worthwhile. Try reading something outside your comfort zone.

3. Puzzles

Sudoku, all day, every day.

4. Talk

Surround yourself with people smarter than you. Think out loud, form your opinions verbally, and talk with your friends and colleagues about politics and history and literature. Argue your point without looking up the answer on Wikipedia. Gone are the days where your professor will pry something eloquent out of you; it’s time to say what you think out loud to anyone who will listen. This is also something I struggle with and is always on my New-Year’s-Resolutions-I-Promise-I-Will-Accomplish list. Ha. But you and me: Let’s work on this together.

5. Find new passions

In the last few years I’ve become weirdly obsessed with meteorology. I never took science seriously in high school or in college, and now my current dream of becoming a severe weather chaser is a bust because I don’t have the formal math or science background. So, I decided to teach myself. After attending a couple of classes at the local NWS chapter, listening to podcasts by weather experts and storm chasers, and reading countless blogs and newspaper articles, I’ve started to understand CAPE and wind shear and the difference between a tropical depression and a hurricane. I’m no expert, still just an amateur at best, but I found a new passion in a subject I wanted nothing to do with before. Explore a new topic and you might surprise yourself.

Stay passionate and curious and excited, darlings. The end of your formal education does not mean the end of learning. Decide to be better and then go out and be better. Find what works for you and run with it.


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