The three objectives of education (and life)

I was listening to Charles Koch of Koch Industries the other morning in an interview with Tim Ferriss, and he made a bold statement about education and growth.

He said that we have three objectives:

First, to find our gifts.

Second, to develop our gifts.

Third, to use our gifts to improve the human condition.

What an incredibly simple and yet powerful concept.

How do you find your gifts?

Those who spend a lot of time around me know that have a tendency to correct a person who says I’m not good at (fill in the blank) or she’s so talented at (fill in the blank.)

The reason is that I believe nearly all skill is learned, and in order to get really good at something, we need to work, we need to take risks, we need to fail.

Having said that, it’s also true that each of us have gifts. These gifts may show up in the form of understanding something more quickly than others, perhaps because of the way our brain recognizes patterns.

This is the classic situation where one kids “gets” a math problem where the kid sitting next to them feels stumped at first. It’s not that kid #2 is bad at math or will not get it, it’s that these two kids process or “see” the information differently.

Both can succeed at math, even though the manner of thinking which allows them to see the solution is the gift of kid #1, and kid #2 has a different gift (perhaps perseverance or love of learning.)

Another way that a gift can illustrate itself is through love. Perhaps a child loves to sing. In listening to them, we may not hear anything particularly special about their voice, (at first) yet if they have a passion which will sustain them to develop it, then that may be their gift.

All of us have gifts. Every single one of us.

Is this like following your passion?

Much has been written about how if you follow your passion, money will come.

We can find examples both to support this notion, and to refute it. In the book Deep Work, Cal Newport reminds us that satisfaction tends to come from mastery. So by working hard at something and becoming proficient, we create satisfaction, and ultimately may grow love the thing we’ve mastered. I have found this to be accurate.

I didn’t love real estate in the beginning. And I still love other things as much, such as writing. However, after more than a decade of practicing various aspects of the real estate business, I can definitely say that I derive great satisfaction from doing my job well.

And yet if the work that we master is not also developing one or more of our gifts, it can feel hollow.

So develop our gifts we must, if we are to become self-actualized. This is precisely why I’m sitting here writing this article this morning. There are many other tasks I could be handling during this first 45 minutes of the workday. Yet I’ve realized that true joy will come from developing my gift of writing.

And for the record: I don’t consider myself to be a particularly good writer. My goal is ultimately to write a book, yet I don’t even know what it will be about. I expect there will be much practicing and learning and failing between now and when I accomplish that goal.

Use your gifts to improve the human condition.

Some bemoan the “follow your passion” advice, because if you’ve already got an established career as an attorney, yet your gift is working with your hands and you dream of being a potter, well… you might go broke if you quit the practice in order to begin making soup-bowls to sell at festivals. I get it.

Perhaps you’ve spent all your years doing what you thought you were supposed to do (becoming an attorney) and your gift of pottery is as-yet undeveloped.

That’s okay. You’re not alone in that.

While I wouldn’t suggest that you quit your job, you can still develop your gift on the side. Take pottery classes. Go to workshops. Take a summer sabbatical one time and see how it is.

Even if you don’t ever become a full-time potter, perhaps you begin teaching community education classes on it during the summer-time, and perhaps your encouragement of your students changes their lives.

And perhaps that was the whole point.


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