Do, Fail, Learn, Repeat

Since finishing Better Than College (a 2-year-long project) in June, I’ve been contemplating my next big thing.  I’m pretty sure I’m ready to start a school (i.e., a long-term, structured learning program): one of my long-held goals.

This summer I tossed around a number of different visions for this (un)school. I launched an opportunity network for grown unschoolers—a side project that will surely play a larger role at some point. I filled half a Moleskine, multiple private webpages, and a dozen Word documents with further sketches, plans, and secret notes to myself.

But I’m going in circles. The vision is incomplete. I’m missing something crucial.

This morning, I began to see what I’m lacking and where I might find it.

– – –

In Fall 2006, I began my second season at an outdoor science school in southern California. (You can still see a photo of me in the “Meet the Staff” box, lower right.)

By that time—almost two years into my many post-college service industry jobs—the entrepreneurial bug had bitten hard. I wanted to do my own thing. So I convinced the program director to let me work at the school half-time; I planned to spend the other time in San Diego starting an education consulting business called Catalyst Prep (you can still see the somewhat embarrassing archived website). Catalyst Prep was one of many business ideas that I had back in 2006-7, the result of lots of thinking (overthinking?) and brainstorming: much like I’m doing today in 2012.

What happened instead was: I abandoned the business, got fed up with working for other people (even very nice people), and had to get away. I left a hand-scrawled resignation letter underneath a rock on the program director’s front doorstep and started driving north.

I landed at my aunt’s house in Snohomish, Washington, where I spent the next few weeks attempting and failing to complete NaNoWriMo (a challenge to write 50,000 words of fiction in the month of November—no embarrassing manuscript available). I then decided that I needed to go really far away in order to clear my mind, so I hatched a plan to travel to South America, in what would become my first multi-month, self-planned, international backpacking trip.

I took that trip, and it changed my life.

The first month I was solo, bumming around the beaches and mountains of northern Peru. My friend Patrick joined me in Lima for the second month, and then our mutual friend Matt joined us for the third month in Argentina. Patrick and I wrote a shared blog about our adventures (part 1, part 2, part 3). I returned stateside that April reinvigorated, ready to start a new outdoor education job.

The new job didn’t last long. Again, I got fed up working for other people. But this time I had a direction to follow: the South America trip. It was that trip, combined with my experiences at Deer Crossing Camp and Not Back to School Camp—that eventually led me to start Unschool Adventures and lead its first trip to Argentina. I’ve been leading one, two, or three trips each year through Unschool Adventures ever since.

– – –

Now I’m 30, self-employed, and doing work that I love. But I also feel the need to try something big and different: to start a long-term structured learning program, quite unlike anything I’ve done before.

This morning, I realized that instead of thinking my way through this big new program, I need to personally experience it—like I did with South America—before attempting to teach it.

As Ghandi advised, I need to become the change I want to see in the world.

I’m not sure where that will take me—but that’s where I am.


See all of my South America trip photos.



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