I've always been the 'education' type. You'd be more likely to find me with a book in hand than a ball when I was younger, and there was no question as to whether university was the best choice for me on leaving school. At the risk of sounding like a bit of a geek, I just really like learning.
When I left university though, I was at a bit of a loose end. While I didn't miss the essays and exams, I did find myself pining for someone to teach me something I didn't know. I missed discovering facts I hadn't heard before; mastering new skills and coming up with original ideas. I had started the writing career I had aimed for when doing my degree, so it didn't really feel like I had any reason to study more. Then, when I began my job writing about adult learning, I realised that just because I'd left university, my education didn't have to stop.
My first foray into the world of short courses was taking a plumbing workshop at the Goodlife Centre in Southwark. The idea was born from a desire to be more handy around the home since my boyfriend can't even tell a spanner from a wrench (slight exaggeration; he's just not very DIY savvy) and I'm constantly calling my dad when things go wrong. The class was inclusive, informal and filled with useful information and tricks I could use on my own taps and pipes.
It was actually a lot of fun. It didn't feel like I had gone back to the classroom of my school days where homework and detentions reigned. In fact, it felt more like an after school club - brain-boosting and enriching, but enjoyable and sociable too. Suddenly I was hooked on the idea of doing more with my evenings than going for drinks or watching Eastenders.
Next on my list was cookery. I wanted to do something that would make me better in the kitchen and I landed on a bread making course. I learnt a lot about baking, enjoyed a lavish lunch with my fellow attendees and went home with a bag full of bread.
I then went on to try my hand at Pilates during my lunch break; I made a chicken out of wool at a craft class in a yurt in Cardiff, which gave me the bug to look for more sewing classes when I was back in London; and I booked a snowboarding lesson in Milton Keynes. I even started magic classes with a friend from work and felt like Dynamo as I mastered card tricks and made coins disappear.
I was having a lot of fun and sampling a whole bunch of unusual activities, but then one day, in a conversation about what we'd been up to over the last month, a friend asked me, 'But what's the point of spending all your time doing these classes if they're not going to help your career?'
This stumped me a bit and made me think about the 'point' of education. Was it really just a way of getting ahead in the workplace? An investment that would pay off in the form of a big salary later in life? This was sort of how I'd seen it on graduating but that idea seemed a bit cold and certainly didn't fit with my experience since. While I acknowledge there are some courses out there with the sole purpose of training you for a job, I think education is also about gaining life skills you didn't have before, building relationships with people who have knowledge to share and having a good time while you do it.
These things make up the 'point' of taking leisure courses like the ones I've tried. Sure, being able to sew a button won't result in riches, but it's handy when my favourite coat starts falling apart. Besides, as I mentioned in my last post, doing all this could even complement my career since it shows I am spending my spare time constructively.
It sounds clichéd but I think the point of education is to expand your mind and whether you're doing this by taking a PRINCE 2 project management course in the hope of getting that promotion or a cake making workshop to surprise your friend on her birthday, you're still increasing the inventory of things you know.
If there's anyone out there who wants to try something new but wonders whether there's any point, find something you're passionate about and you'll soon discover multiple reasons as to why it's great you're doing it.
And for my next challenge? Kite surfing.