This post is one in a series of 5<5 posts that document pilot/prototype projects with the format 5 things that I wish someone had told me before I started in <5% of the time spent on the project. This post provides context around the project, since it was a cornerstone project for me in 2005-2007.
Then I embarked on a two year self-designed Masters/Fellowship in sustainable leadership, ethics and conflict resolution. No programs offered what I wanted. I considered a traditional MA program in conflict resolution or a fellowship in clinical ethics, but each had parts but not all of what I wanted, so I decided to save money and design my own learning program.
In many professions, training is ill-suited to the actual work that they one does. Thrust into positions of responsibility for which they are ill-prepared, people cope by scrambling to prove themselves, they often hide their stress and fears in addiction, and many spend their professional lives running from the shadow of incompetence until they catch their equilibrium years, maybe decades later. None of my mentors thought that I needed further training, but I did and I began when I felt ready. Not because I lack confidence, rather because I wanted to show up differently.
5 Things I wish someone had told me before I started this project:
1. Be aware that the world does not understand self-designed. Make the decision to self-design with the awareness that getting what you want and need because you designed the education yourself may come with the cost that others may not recognize and value the work that you did because it was not "contained" within a formally recognized setting and format. We remain in a time of transition, some areas embrace alternatives more readily than others. Think very carefully about this decision, especially if you want to work in a traditional field.
2. Money still factors in. While I did not enroll in a 2 year MA program that might have cost $30k + living expenses. I still had living expenses and the costs of multiple workshops, trainings, travel to get to courses. Today, I am enrolled in 4 courses via the internet but 6-7 years ago that was not possible. Alternative curriculum design may become more accessible with these kinds of courses being more accessible (for now free, we'll see how long that lasts). Not being in a traditional structure means that you can't access student loans. So kickstarter/indi-go-go/ start up you/ student funder are all options; like internships, self-designed alternative education remains limited to those with the privilege of a cushion of support.
3. Develop a documenting strategy at the outset. It may get modified but begin with a vision for how to share what you've learned and what you want to show as the learning at the end. I wrote about the need for better tools to support self-designed learning in this post: Learning Journey Tools Requested
- The best strategy that I heard about was for a self-designed PhD. In collaboration with a mentor: you identify 8 core topics that are the foundation for the thesis, then you teach on those core topics to demonstrate that you learned them. Then you have 3 areas for in depth study and you agree on how you will show the mentor that you have mastered these areas. Finally, you write and defend the dissertation. This can be modified for a lower level of study.
4. Creating a self-designed course of learning builds an unique life skill of self-directed learner. Most people go to school, and schools say what courses are available, what you have to take to qualify for your major, school ensures lots of other people around doing the same thing you are, and school determines the exam schedule to demonstrate success. A self-designed education requires:
- the self-knowledge to know what you know and what you don't know
- the curiosity to determine what you need to learn
- the resourcefulness to seek alternative venues to find places to gain that knowledge/experience
- the creativity to access those learning opportunities
- the motivation to keep going when you are on your own at every juncture
- the perseverance to keep going when things are tough; no flow/current carries you other than your own conviction
- the courage to share your learnings for public scrutiny. Unlike in school, the public can be a tougher critic than a professor for a test and comments are public and permanent.
5. Identify mentors and check in with them consistently about your progress. Mentors were invaluable as people with whom I could reflect on my learning and experiences and check in as I planned next steps. Find the people that you want to grow up to "be like" (p.s. age is irrelevant). I have learned that people whom I want to emulate often are not able to tell me what I need to do/learn, because they operate with "unconscious competence." But I studied what they did in order to learn those skills or find people with whom I could learn them, and often reflecting that kind of learning back to them helps them see their gifts; mentoring is a symbiotic relationship.
- to deepen my skills as a mediator in order to be 'prepared' for high stakes/life-death related mediations in the hospital
- to make peace within myself so that I would be an invisible party in the room
- to cultivate the capacity to be aware of my influence and not add noise/bias to the conflicts that I mediated
- to develop the capacity to be present with suffering and conflict without 'burning out'
- to build my leadership capacity to lead change sustainably
- to cultivate the capacity to lead inclusively
- to develop a coherent personal framework to ground my ethics work
- to study the science of decision making and influence and how it applies in ethics and mediation
- to design a community health ethic
Basics Mediation Training, Steven Rosenberg
Basics Mediation Training, Community Boards
Advanced Mediation Training, Steven Rosenberg
Small Claims Court Mediation Training, San Francisco
Elder Mediation Training, ARMS
Mediation for Community Boars, Office of Citizen Complaints, San Francisco Civil Court: Small Claims Court
NVC Bay Area with Marshall Rosenberg
NVC on Diversity: Race, Class, Gender
Facing Violence World Forum: Conflict Resolution, Ethics & Justice
Workshops with Public Conversations, Search for Common Ground, Facing History, Facing Ourselves, Angeles Arrien
Healing the Wounds of War on All Sides, Vietnam Tour with Thich Nhat Hanh
5 week daily practice, 3 3-day long ceremonies in Hanoi, Hue, and Ho Chi Minh City, multiple retreats
Meditation Course, Green Gulch Farm
7 Day Silent Retreat, Green Gulch Farm
Retreat for People of Color, Deer Park Monastery
Retreat for People of Color and Vietnamese-Speaking Community, Deer Park Monastery
People of Color practice group
Study on the way of the Bodhisattva, SFZC
Study of the Lotus Sutra, Green Gulch Farm
Study of 5 Precepts across tradition, Green Gulch study group
Study of 14 Mindfulness Trainings of Plum Village tradition
I have not entirely determined an effective way to share what I learned. In part because much of it was deeply personal to me and that might not be as relevant to others. I endeavored in 2008 to write some frameworks and methods that endeavored to share my learnings. These are the beginning and there remains more to share. Hopefully, in time, the medium or means will present themselves.
Passive Participation in Conflict
- A framework for recognizing the legacy of injustice on all sides and strategies for healing those experiences to cultivate peace at the base of one's activities.
Mind the Gaps
- A method for innovative, inclusive problem solving. A primer on human-centered design, human factors and latent need finding to make solutions inclusive for diverse communities.
I + U Halt Injustice
- A framework for identifying the areas of capacity needed to support inclusive problem solving
- A virtual journal club to examine cases regarding care for older adults in the community setting
Clinical Ethics Consultation: A Mediator's Toolbox
- A primer that induces mediation tools applied to clinical ethics
Mediating the Holidays
- A workshop on cultivating cultural humility to navigate the differences one encounters in all domains of life