The Oxford Dictionary of English defines a hobby as “an activity done regularly in one’s leisure time for pleasure.” When someone considers what hobbies are, most often think of things like running, hunting, computer gaming, playing basketball or something similar. The idea of pursuing educational degrees as a pastime is not something that would be ranked among the top one hundred people surveyed and revealed during an episode of Family Feud.
Most people have hobbies. Many of those interests come with quite hefty price tags. The thing I love to do most in my spare time, the thing I’d rather do more than anything else at any given moment- is to learn something new. Certainly, one can learn much among a wide array of topics by exploring the local library or even the internet. That type of study is incomplete. Education is not just about filling your head with new information. The key, and most importantly to this discussion- the pleasure, arises from the application of these new discoveries in real-life scenarios where one can make a difference.
It wasn’t until late high-school years that I found a few classes that I even cared about. Classes involving governance, the legal system and civics, as well as a few electives such as art and then human physiology which paired well with my then hobby of serving my local fire department as a Fire Explorer resonated well with me. I have always loved serving those who are in need and am especially drawn to rapid-paced environments that provide significant challenges. It is no wonder why I found myself drawn to the fire service. Fast forward to Paramedic school, where the science and art of medicine intersected, and I was hooked into a profession that I wasn’t sure was for me.
The idea of learning something (and even mastering a skill) and relying upon that level of knowledge for ‘life’ is an idea that is foreign to me. This is likely a side-effect of the constant need to learn more faced by those in the fire-service who understand there is a constant need to be better prepared for the next challenge faced during the next emergency, where those who know more than I do may not be there because of absence, multiple calls, or simple attrition. After all, the longer we are around- the sooner we become ‘the old timers’ even when we fail to recognize who we are until it is pointed out to us.
Advancing to senior ranks early in my career only worsened the drive I felt to be prepared for even bigger problems, that I knew I didn’t know anything about. The breadth of needed knowledge in fire administration far exceeds the ins and outs of the fire service. The end result is that I have continued to learn, in both structured and unstructured environments- constantly. Public Administration encompasses and even broader array of knowledge providing a wealth of opportunity to put the various components of business, economics, politics, policy, legislation and more in conjunction with well-established emergency service principles in a meaningful way. I recognize that I am blessed to be in a position where all of my interests intersect both personally and professionally, but the arrival as such as place has only occurred with hard work and significant investment concerted professional and personal effort.
I was never one to ‘enjoy’ school in any way, shape or form. However, there is something to be said about pursuing a course of study through a structured course of learning. As my pursuit through higher education has continued now to the doctoral level, I have learned that I do not have the self-discipline to pursue courses of study into areas that I do not inherently agree with. Beyond the boundary of comfort is where one (who has an open mind to new ideas) discovers new insight that quickly leads to discovery. This area of personal growth stems from understanding and wisdom when disparate topics are synthesized in new ways. In order not to be foolish, we must discuss and debate these ideas. Part of that evaluation includes subjecting oneself to criticism and challenge. Hereto the process is can be quite enjoyable- and educational. The difference in theory and application is critical. In order to verify what we think we know, we must ultimately place these ideas and concepts into practice. Next, there must be an objectively evaluation of the results.
Education is an activity, just like any other hobby. The journey is just as much a part of the process as the ability to act upon what one has learned. Too often the goal is thought to be a grade or certificate at the end of the process. This is where the traditional idea of education fails the student. It is the pursuit of knowledge, one that should never end at graduation, that is both fulfilling and rewarding. Who knows, somewhere along the line we might even be better off as a society if we could effectively shift our concept of education from chore to enjoyment and ultimately fulfillment.
I’d love to know your story and your thoughts. Please comment below and let’s further the educational process of bettering our world!
Jonathan M. Westendorf holds a Master of Public Administration from the University of Southern California and is a Doctor of Public Administration candidate at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. Interests include a variety of public policy challenges including erasing the stigma associated with the opioid epidemic. Additionaly, Westendorf is a Fire & EMS Chief for over 18-years, and is currently the 1st Vice-President of the Ohio Fire Chiefs’ Association and Legislative Committe Chair.