DIY Education

I have been following Karen X. Cheng's journey for several months, ever since she released a video illustrating how she learned to dance in a year. I am not a dancer, with the exception of occasional Zumba classes and a summer spent memorizing K-pop music videos. Yet Karen's message is inspiring to anyone who dreams of maximizing their potential, but is unsure of where to begin:

This isn’t a story about dancing [...]. It’s about having a dream and not knowing how to get there — but starting anyway. Maybe you’re a musician dreaming of writing an original song. You’re an entrepreneur dying to start your first venture. You’re an athlete but you just haven’t left the chair yet.

Karen's passion and persistence also guided her through a career change. In an article for Fast Company, Karen describes how she got a job as a designer without going to design school. I am a believer in do-it-yourself education -- though historically not quite confident enough to commit myself! -- and Karen's advice rings true. Her education took place on weekends and evenings, and was structured by books on theory, online tutorials, mentors, and building her portfolio with pro bono side projects.

This year, I am committed to DIY education. During winter break, I will get reacquainted with my high school-era computer science skills, and tackle several lessons on Codecademy. Additionally, I have been piecing together a DIY graduate degree in Energy, Resources and Environment -- a popular concentration in my graduate program that turns away outside students from oversubscribed courses, but that doesn't mean I can't access the assigned reading.

Next week, my commitment to DIY education will be put to the test. After a year-long vacation from formal classes, I am scheduled to take my Chinese proficiency test. I have been religiously writing and re-writing vocabulary words, reading old textbooks, and listening to podcasts on ChinesePod (a great resource!). May this be the first step in a successful year of self-improvement, side projects and do-it-yourself education!