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Back in the day, public schools didn’t have fancy names for programs that challenged kids academically. Smart kids weren’t in accelerated classes. They were in “independent study.” I was clever enough to get in one of those classes in junior high, but not mature enough to handle the freedom–if you know what I mean. I guess I’m all grown up now because I’m managing my own independent studies. That’s the beauty of being a grown up in a free country. We get to decide what we study. When everything else is out of my control, I get to control what I learn and what I know.

After a particularly painful and unfulfilling work experience that ended in 2007, I made a pact with myself. Work is work. Sometimes it’s fun. Sometimes it’s not. When it’s not, having an all-consuming passion helps you get over a lot of humps and slumps. Personally, I like to give myself one big independent study focus each year. (I pick one because that makes it easier to manage/prioritize time and you usually walk away with a solid base of usable knowledge.) Whatever the topic, I read about it. I attend seminars and workshops and just generally get myself all lathered up about it. My ego gets parked because I’m clearly a beginner. I can just flounder around and even fail without shame.

In 2007 it was Italy and Renaissance art and architecture.  (I went to Italy that year.)

In 2008 it was social media. (I started my first blog that year.)

In 2009 it was yoga. (I got certified as an instructor that year.)

In 2010 it was vintage fashion. (I started this site that year.)

The big study project for 2011 has been returning to sewing. (You’ll meet my coach later this year.)

Steve Jobs summed up the reward of being a student when he described his life after being fired from Apple: “The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.” Right on, Steve. Chasing that feeling was partially responsible for my decision to switch careers–twice. In all three careers, I was happiest when I was learning and acquiring new experiences.

There is nothing more liberating than being an amateur, a jack of all trades, master of none. We don’t have to be experts at everything. Or, for that matter, anything. Assuming we’re put here, in part, to enjoy life, then we’d better enjoy some things just for the sake of enrichment and fun. And when it comes to work, there are plenty of opportunities for generalists.

Have you given yourself permission to be in life’s independent study program yet? Remember, it’s a free country! P.S. Here’s a dress that looks like something one of my teachers might have worn in junior high,