Part of being a 20 something, I find, is realizing how quickly your values and thoughts can change. Every few months, I end up reflecting on where I was six months ago and can’t believe the kinds of thoughts or fears I used to have. If I look back even further to the things I believed at 16, it’s almost laughable.
Ever since high school, my dad has always told me that high school teaches you how to learn, but college teaches you how to think. Once you know how to think, learning continues no matter what. From my first day of class all the way up to graduation, I soaked in every bit of knowledge thrown at me. Sometimes, I think I could’ve kept going for years.
As difficult as college can be, it actually makes developing a sharp mind incredibly easy. Information is basically spoon fed to you whether you’re required to take it or you choose to on your own. Once classes are over and you walk across that stage, you might never return to an environment where challenging material is presented to you. Like many other people, myself included, you might just enter the workforce. When you finish your eight hours everyday, you might veg out for the rest of the night and repeat the cycle again the next day, the next week, the next year.
No wonder so many people feel stuck.
Keeping a sharp mind after college doesn’t necessarily mean reading all those philosophy books you never got around to reading before (although, if that’s your thing then go for it). It doesn’t necessarily mean taking classes for the sake of taking classes or going to grad school right away.
It simply means not forgetting how to think.
Much of what I learned in college challenged what I had previously believed was true. My professors taught me how to analyze everything from magazine ads to toys to obscure films. Being in a classroom setting sort of forced me to be critical, but now that I’m no longer writing term papers, thinking has to be a conscious choice that I make.
I can decide how to spend my free time after work. I don’t have to make connections between what I learn at work (and I learn a lot) and any other part of my life. I don’t have to think back on anything I learned in college and expand on those ideas, but I do. Part of that pursuit might come naturally to me, but I believe a large part of it has to do with the choice I made a few months ago to dedicate more of my evenings to reading or doing other things besides messing around on the Internet. I still do a lot of that, but it’s certainly less than I used to.
No matter what keeping your mind sharp looks like to you, it’s something that you will ultimately have to decide to do. You can do with books, movies, TV shows, conversations–anything so long as it continues that process of thinking. College teaches you how to think so that you can keep going on your own and join the hoard of 20 somethings that reevaluate themselves every few months.