Facing my fear of learning

It’s been a decade since I took part in any formal learning… would I remember how?

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been learning every day since I stumbled into my first role in the world of communications after completing my 3-year bachelor degree. However, learning on the job and teaching myself things with the help of Youtube, webinars, blog posts and FAQ sections on websites, is a whole different ball game to formal, structured learning. 

When I say formal learning I’m using this phrase to describe when you produce work that is reviewed by assessors, and walk away with a “qualification” type thing at the end. It may not be the official term but it was a pretty clear differentiator for me. This style of learning requires a higher level of vulnerability as you pour time and effort into assessments and hand them over to be analysed and fed back on… panic!

In October 2021 I signed up to The Mind Lab’s Leading Beyond Sustainability Micro-credential. I was promoting the programme as part of my role as Marketing Manager, and the content was so incredibly intriguing. The programme was also only 8 weeks, and all online so I could easily do it while working.

As soon as my “enrolment successful” email came through, I took an audible gulp. I was terrified. It had been a decade since I’d completed an assessment, why was I putting myself in this position… would I even remember how to do it? 

So I decided to document my experience on the programme so others, who were possibly on the same page and haunted by the same fears, would have someone or something to relate to.

Week 1: Introduction

This week was made up of an online session with all learners and those running the programme, as well as self-directed learning using the online learning platform.

I immediately loved the online platform, it was easy to track progress and I felt a real sense of achievement as I moved through each stage (content was broken into mini “chapters” which included videos, quizzes and articles to read).

As the online session came up I was nervous, what would the other learners be like? Would they be much further along their sustainability journey than me? I was just a beginner! What if we were asked to contribute… what would I say? What if there was a pop quiz???

We signed onto Zoom and as people trickled in I nervously looked through the week’s content as a refresher.

I needn’t have worried. The session was casual, fun and more about getting to know each other than making sure we had read any content. Everyone introduced themselves and the variety of people, experience and knowledge was so broad I immediately felt comfortable. People were refreshingly honest, open, and inspiring. There were of course some people who had extensive knowledge about sustainability, even one person who lived entirely off the grid – she doesn’t even have a fridge! However the overall feeling was that we were all in this together and everyone was eager to support others.

After the session I was even more inspired and started going down some deep rabbit holes with the content (one article linking to another article linking to another article…). There was so much. I was overwhelmed. How were we going to cover such an immense topic in just 8 weeks…? How was I going to keep up?

My key takeaway for week 1? Great people, great content, sustainability was one BIG topic… how would I be able to carve a piece of it off for a project of my own?

Week 2: Getting stuck in

This week was purely online content, no lunchtime session, so I allowed myself a bit more time to get through it as it was also a busy week of work. The topic areas were really interesting so I found myself super engaged when I did get cracking.

I learned about how unlimited growth is not an option, we’re seeing evidence from the earth that changes need to be made, we can’t keep going as we are. My favourite quote from the course content was “we need to find alternative and transformative ways to change many things humans, especially in areas the highly industrialised countries have gotten used to, like transport, energy use, agriculture and diet.”

I also felt more confident adding comments to content on the learning platform, realising that this was another way to connect and engage with my cohort. I loved reading everyone else’s thoughts and contributions, and even though mine weren’t nearly as sophisticated as others, I found I did have ideas to contribute. My mind also started buzzing with potential ideas for my project, so I noted all of my thoughts down as I went. I was nervous about the case study assessment looming in week 4, but starting to wrap my head around how the content was linking together and building.

Key takeaway for week 2… compared to my feeling of being overwhelmed last week, this week I felt inspired and brimming with ideas and new thinking. 

Weeks 3 & 4: Assessment time!

As I hit week 3 I found myself losing steam a bit – work got busy, I was tired and I let silly things get in the way. I attended the online session and heard how everyone else was progressing and felt intimidated… It got to Sunday morning and I was way behind, and feeling the pressure! So I took a big breath, made a big cup of tea, parked up on my couch, and dedicated the morning to work through the week’s reading. 

As soon as I got stuck in, the enthusiasm flooded back. WHY had I been procrastinating? The course work gripped me instantly and I was furiously taking notes. We dove deep into kaupapa Māori concepts and key values, and although I’ve touched on them before it was incredibly fascinating and all of it was delivered in a new light. 

It did all start to make me feel a bit inadequate, but it also made me acknowledge and appreciate my own love for the environment and the connection I feel with it. There were a range of case studies and I was so inspired when I started learning how people are working to make life on earth more sustainable, in both big and small ways.

When I hit week 4 I realised my Sunday morning sit down was actually a really practical and enjoyable way to tackle the course content, so I did the same thing in order to get through the week’s work. I then spent the afternoon on my case study assessment and absolutely adored it! It was so good to put the learnings into action, showcase how much I’d learned already, and I even enjoyed the refresher on referencing.

Handing in my assessment I felt really proud of myself and eager to hear feedback that I would be able to integrate into my final assessment.

Key takeaway as we hit the week 4 halfway point… I can’t believe it’s halfway already! It’s going so fast! But I do know there’s a lot more to learn… And setting aside Sunday mornings for learning is a good way to go.

Weeks 5 & 6: Don’t let it get over my head!

As Sunday morning rolled around I was pumped to sit down for my weekly learning time. I’d read a couple of pieces throughout the week to give myself time to ponder, but left myself a good chunk to get through – this time was becoming my escape and my refresh.

The content of week 5 was a little more complex, some deep thinking and tasks that challenged me, but my confidence was building and I got stuck in even when I wasn’t sure if I was doing it right. It started to slowly make sense and I felt a huge sense of achievement for purely sticking at it and giving it a go.

I was still indecisive about my final project, and realised it would’ve been easier if I’d made a decision already, as a lot of the work was related to that final piece. So I spent some time on it, and ran my ideas by a few others in the cohort via Slack to make sure I was on the right track. And just like that, my final project idea had landed.

When week 6 rolled around and we went deeper into more real life examples of some of the things we were learning, like how to take a systems approach and also how to create a feedback loop to ensure feedback is sustainable. It felt like it was all continually clicking into place. And it was actually doable! We had our final online session and hearing about everyone’s assessment ideas was pretty exciting, such a diverse bunch!

I loved the exploration into the Doughnut Economy model, something I’ve heard mentioned so many times but now could actually see how it could be applied. It all starts with asking a few hairy questions, like “What social and ecological pressures does our organisation contribute to?” and going from there.

Combining this with the concept of whakapapa, the importance of making decisions for the next generations and therefore taking a different approach, showed me a new way of tackling ‘beyond linear thinking’. It showed me a new way of thinking altogether to be honest and I could see how these indigenous values were the true answer to creating a sustainable future for all. 

At the end of week 6 my key takeaway was that we overcomplicate so many things – if we strip it back to basics, consider what we need to do, it all becomes an awful lot clearer. It also felt quite hard to tick all the boxes, there are so many considerations! Anything I do will have negative impacts elsewhere… How do we create the right balance with the least amount of negative impact?

Week 7: Ramping up

Things were starting to really ramp up, the final assessment was due in little over a week so I started chipping away at it as the week progressed. Thankfully as I had decided on my project this was a lot easier. 

I decided to tackle the concept of creating local kaitiaki for ponds and wetland areas within communities. This stemmed from my love for native birds and how much magic they bring to parks in urban areas, and my desire for people to appreciate this magic.

The course content covered the creation of a social impact strategy, which is pretty much what we’re doing for the final assessment. We learned about strategy, measuring impact, stakeholder analysis and how to use a social lean canvas tool – super fascinating stuff!

It was this week when I realised my fear of learning had been completely and utterly replaced by a passion and drive I never knew I had. I was deep into this learning experience, loving every second of it and genuinely disappointed that it was coming to an end. Why was I scared to stretch that brain muscle? I felt a bit silly thinking about that fear I had in week 1!

Week 8: Wrapping it up

And just like that we were at the final week. I dove deep into my assignment, set aside a large part of my Saturday to get it done before the Sunday evening deadline. I absolutely adored bringing everything I’d learned together – although it was difficult to refrain myself and make sure I wasn’t jamming too much into it (sorry to those who had to mark my assessment!).

We were asked to present our assessment as a video so I created a slide set and voiceover to talk through my ideas and the supporting frameworks and information. It was so much fun, I felt my passion bubbling up as I spoke and I was stoked with the result.

When I handed it in I was like a little kid, I made my husband watch it with me and felt immense pride in what I’d pulled together and how much new knowledge was floating around in my brain! I felt ready for anything.

And, a week or two later I found out I passed. Thrilled is an understatement. I once again sat my husband down and made him read all the comments. I put it straight on my LinkedIn profile! I now had a Leading Beyond Sustainability Micro-credential under my belt.

At the end of the programme I not only discovered I could have an informed conversation about sustainability, inputting my own perspective and backing it with examples, but I also discovered a love for learning that I hadn’t realised was there. This, backed by the fact that I had a real sustainability project to action, gave me a new perspective and something to aim towards.

I was addicted. I was immensely proud. I was already looking for what was next. There is so much to learn, and so many ways to learn… what’s holding us back?

If you’re hesitant about learning, or passionate about sustainability but don’t know where to start then talk to us about how learning is different with The Mind Lab

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