Today I saw my daughter take her first, unassisted step. I was holding one of her favorite stuffed animals, a yellow lion, she reached up to grab it and when she couldn’t reach it, she inched forward.
One step. Then she fell on her butt.
Not bad for an 11-month old.
I didn’t notice it when it first happened but I later realized something. While I was marveling at her first step I missed something pretty important. Why did she take the first step?
When we look at life’s basic milestones, walking, talking, riding a bike, driving, etc. we think that we learn those skills just to learn them. As I watched my daughter take her first step, it dawned on me that she wasn’t thinking “I need to learn to walk.” Her thought was “I want my freakin’ lion.”
Extrapolate on this. Why do we do anything first? It’s to help us attain something else. This can be further applied to other human achievements whether it’s the wheel, the light bulb, the cotton gin, nuclear technology or the space shuttles. They were derived from a need. Even art, which many consider entertainment, was born not out of ego to please others or to entertain but to serve as an outlet of expression. The same goes with athletics. A pitcher learns to throw a curve ball not because he wants the skill but because he wants to use it against opposing hitters.
My daughter’s first step demonstrated something basic about human nature. Most all of our basic life developments are predicated on a need or a desire, not necessarily to obtain the skill.
It boils down to motivation I guess. To me this is most applicable to education, especially higher education. We spend a lot of time getting students to understand a particular skill whether it’s writing, math or research. We shouldn’t always be absorbed into developing just an ability and sometimes I feel students fall into that mode of thinking. I don’t think we spend enough time trying to explain to students that they need to find something applicable to the working world.
It’s no surprise that the most in-demand jobs these days are those that require specific abilities: accounting, nursing, information technology, engineering, etc. If we spent as much time trying to teach students how to apply their abilities beyond the education realm, it would be easier to lay the foundation for the skills they need to learn.
That process starts with one step… and maybe a stuffed lion.