Some Thoughts on Love and Learning

Asian student doing math problem on chalkboard

“Love” might be one of the last words that come to mind when thinking of test prep.

As a practical matter, love, though widely praised, admired, and celebrated, has a tough time competing with fear as primary motivator. Most of us have achieved real security from the terrors that drove our ancestors, but fears of punishment or failure still reliably get us going. Would you stay up late studying if you weren’t afraid of getting a bad grade? Sure, you care about making the team, but would you train as hard for a team anyone can join?

Love, by contrast, feels soft—a luxury consigned to DIY hobbies with humble results—after the real work is over. Taking pleasure in—even loving what you do—can help, but the best and most important work gets done by the driven few—those with the most at stake—who manage to convert fear into decisive action.

But that’s obviously wrong. At least for most of us.

Fear-based education and fear-based living get lousy results. When you push someone who’s stumbling, they fall down. Acute fear may produce a bigger, more immediate response, but love delivers better, more consistent and dependable actions. Love is no luxury. It’s the foundational competency for making one’s way in the world.

Given the prevalence of fear-based thinking, love starts with the ability to notice and then nurture genuine impulses. What are you curious about? What excites you? What do you care about? What do you enjoy doing whether you’re good at it or not?

The great basketball coach John Wooden famously said that “character is what you do when no one is watching.” I’d go several steps further: character is what you create in yourself when love—your truest impulses—fuels your actions.

Start by finding the impulses that matter to you. Find some generosity in your spirit and build up from there. It’s true, many things we love won’t lead to paying jobs, but we discover what we would feel proud to invest our energies in by first attuning ourselves to what we love.

Work opportunities for people oriented toward rote obedience are vanishing. Today’s employers desperately need workers with leadership, creativity, and independence, not to mention warmth, kindness, and collaboration. Institutions of higher learning are increasingly seeking candidates who display these qualities and are willing to put real effort into cultivating them.

When we train ourselves to respond to fear, we resign ourselves, at best, to a life of stillborn triumphs that leave us empty. The life of purpose and meaning that we desire for ourselves and our children originates in love.

Zinc is L.E.A.R.N. Love. Effort. Attention. Reading. Numbers.