#18: Adult nerds

Imagine a world where it’s cool to enjoy learning. A world where people aren’t labeled nerds because they love to learn. 

What if we create a brand new archetype for a person who enjoys learning, resurfacing the term Philomath, Greek for a person who greatly enjoys learning and studying. This person would be someone who learns not because they are being told to learn, and not even because they think it will result in a promotion or more money, but simply because they enjoy learning. 

What if we put this person at the top of the social hierarchy in school? 

Legacy School

We would have to start in the hallways of our schools. 

Where I went to school, we had a pretty standard social hierarchy for an American school: the popular kids were football players and cheerleaders, and the nerds were honor-roll recipients, advanced placement students, and orchestra and band geeks.

Nerds were not cool. They weren’t getting shoved into lockers and dumpsters, like we see in movies, but they definitely had no social clout. 

Nerds spent a lot of their time reading and writing, tinkering with gadgets, and learning about space and science. In the early 2000s, when I was in high school, computers were becoming popular, and nerds spent a lot of their time building and rebuilding them, understanding how they work, and coding programs. 

Environment makes a big difference. I grew up in the suburbs of Atlanta and we had some nerds, but they didn’t quite fit the definition of nerd. Remember from above, I defined a key criteria of a nerd as someone who finds joy in learning. In my school, we had a lot of immigrant kids, who worked very hard and studied a lot, but they learned because their parents expected it, because it would help them get into a good university, and because they would find jobs that paid a lot of money. They didn’t find learning joyful. 

It’s a whole other ball game when you learn for learning’s sake; when you’re surrounded by others who also learn for learning’s sake. As a kid, it changes the trajectory of your life, and as an adult, it allows you to retake control over your trajectory. 

Adult Nerds

As adults, we find it easy to imagine in our mind where we want to go and who we want to be; but, we struggle with actually doing it. Oftentimes, we don’t know how, and our mindset prevents us from finding out. 

The stigmas from high school prevail. We are afraid of being labelled a nerd and we repel any activities that may bring about that label. Some adults even propagate the social hierarchies of high school in their jobs. I have witnessed this at companies, where there is a social dichotomy between business, the “popular” kids, and engineering, the “nerds.” 

Undoubtedly, our legacy schools are culprits in propelling environments that don’t help us become competent, lovers of learning. We not only end up in jobs we don’t like, but also with skills that are misaligned with employers’ needs

Adults today, we need to take back control over our learning; not because we will get a promotion or make more money (we will), but, more importantly, because learning is a vehicle for finding purpose and meaning in life.

Everyone has to find their own purpose, in their own style, so I will not prescriptively tell you how to do it, but instead I’ll leave you with some pragmatic ideas for getting started. 

How to find joy in learning

You can start by enrolling in a MOOC ,Massive Open Online Course, like Coursera, Udemy, or Teachable. I’ve found that these classes are best for picking up a brand new skill, but mediocre for leveling up in a skill. This might explain why MOOCs have a 97% dropout rate. MOOCs have also failed to create inspiring learning communities, where interesting ideas can be freely shared and discussed, like what was experienced in coffeehouses in 17th and 18th century England or what is experienced at Ivy League universities today. 

A better way to level up your skills is to join a CBC, Cohort Based Learning Community. These communities facilitate group learning and discussion better than MOOCs by creating an immersive university-like experience. Similar to a university, you get real-time feedback on ideas from participants, instructors, and even alumni. There is a discussion board, weekly meetings, and fun learning events that you can choose to attend during the week. You really develop a rapport with the students and instructors, and these people become lifelong friends and mentors, just like at a university or a MBA program. The social component differs wildly from a MOOC. 

Level Up

How do you find CBCs? The usual way, I’ve found, is to build relationships on Twitter, where people tend to recommend CBCs, but this is a long process, especially if you’re not already using Twitter to collaborate on ideas and build relationships.

Here are a few CBCs to get you started. You don’t have to enroll immediately, but just clicking through the sites will give you a flavor for the future of learning. I have no monetary incentive for recommending these courses. I have just heard from trusted people in my network that they are topnotch; they have been proven, vetted, and can be very valuable.

I would be remiss to not mention Foster in the list. Foster is an online writing community that provides editorial support. It’s not a structured course, so it’s amiss to call it a CBC, but the community value of Foster puts it right there alongside CBCs. I am currently enrolled in Foster and it has been excellent for leveling up my writing.

It’s important to vet CBCs, especially as more and more courses come on the market. The process can become overwhelming and take time away from actually taking the courses. LOTI (Learning On The Internet) is a new product, the first of its kind, as far as I know, that is solving the issue of searching and vetting CBCs. It came highly recommended and looks very promising. I joined their beta. 

Finally, I’ll leave you with a prescient quote from Mark Twain:

Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.

❤️ Thanks to my Foster editors Dani Trusca, Jordan Jones, Jesse Germinario, and Camila Mirabel