A few days ago we had a great series of poll questions from Bloggernacle journalist EmJen on worship styles. In what will probably seem like quite a tangent until I get to the end of my post, that made me think about a couple of conversations I’ve had relating to school, work, and extracurricular activities.

A Story from Work

The passing of 2011 to 2012 represented more than just a change in the final digit to my journal entry dates for me. It coincided with a rite of passage…the closure of 18 years of formal classroom education with my graduation from my Master’s program in tax accounting. Between December and January, I transitioned from wearing a backpack every day with jeans and a t-shirt…to carrying around a laptop bag every day with a button-down shirt and slacks.

Yet, even without being in a formal classroom setting, I did not graduate from learning, from teachers, or even from textbooks. Now, my teachers were the various seniors, managers, senior managers, and partners on my engagements…and as textbooks, I had the Internal Revenue Code and Regs, as well as so many frameworks. Instead of case studies to study out problems from the sideline, I would be in the fray.

And so I was. My first week, even before I had gone to tax entry training, I was assigned to an engagement that spilled over into the weekend to work. And on my first Saturday of work, at the client site in a button-down and slacks (because I didn’t get the memo, and didn’t think to ask before hand, that when you work on the weekends, the dress code definitely relaxes considerably since nobody else is there — hey…dress for the job you want, not the job you have, right?), we were working.

But our close-knit team was also talking. The partner to the engagement started asking about our backgrounds. Over the conversation, she seemed to quietly calculate and connect the different backgrounds and stories…searching for something. When everyone on the team had shared our stories, she presented her conclusions: “I think our team is so proficient at working through high stress situations because we all have been in high stress backgrounds…so even a new staff who is spending his first week at the firm can jump right into things and perform well.”

I didn’t see how she had connected the dots. For the most part, the only thing we really had in common as a team was the fact that our backgrounds were all so unusual and eclectic…I mean, throughout college, I fenced. How many accountants have done that? And even though one of the other team members went on a mission for the church — an area where I potentially could have matched — even that ended up being a unique background experience for our team, since I never went on a mission.

As if able to sense my puzzlement, the partner continued: “It doesn’t matter that we all have done different things…but between Andrew’s and [engagement manager]’s very different sport experiences and [engagement experienced staff]’s church mission, these are all experiences that prepare people for dealing with stress…I’ve found that you can’t often rely purely on grades, test scores, or proficiency with accounting rules to determine who will really thrive in this industry.”

I think that when I first entered university, I would’ve viewed much of my successes as having been dependent on grades and test scores. But just from hearing what the partner was saying, it definitely resonated with me.

A Story from School

When I read some articles throughout the Bloggernacle about happenings at BYU, I sense that there is often a troubled relationship between alumnus and alma mater. On the one hand, people point to great experiences they’ve had, great people they’ve met…but sometimes, it’s embarrassing that the same school can be associated with controversy.

I didn’t go to BYU, but having graduated from Texas A&M, I think I can understand some of the issues.

Without getting too political, I’ll just say that from a perspective of school spirit and whatnot, I started university curious and resentful of a particular cultural “label” at A&M: the idea of the “2%-er.”

The idea behind a 2-percenter is simple: these are the students who do not participate in A&M traditions. In other words, they sit down during football games instead of standing up…they leave early from said games…or they don’t even go to games at all! They don’t attend Silver Taps or Muster. They don’t say “Howdy!” (even when someone says it to them first.) In fact, all they really do is go to class.

You might be thinking: well, don’t people go to school for the education? Aren’t classes ultimately what it’s about?

But that’s the asserted point: classes and grades are only 2% of the educational experience.

When I first entered A&M, I resented the 2-percenter idea because to me, it seemed like a way to penalize directed, focused, probably introverted students and to idolize extroverts who can pre-game the hardest before every game.

Extracurricular Activities…but what I came to realize over my course of study is that one doesn’t have to look at this idea of non-classroom education so cynically. Perhaps the most memorable and formative experiences we can have during school are in fact ones fostered through our involvements in extracurricular activities.

Once again, the interesting thing is that it doesn’t really matter what a person does. Through fencing, I developed leadership skills. My brother has been just a little bit involved with the Kiwanis family of community service organizations since middle school. I’ll suppose he’s picked up a few leadership skills along the way too. When the Student Review was reviving at BYU, many of the creators and writers from its first incarnation spoke similarly about its role for them. What do swords, community service, and journalism have in common? (Sounds like the lead-in to a joke, if you ask me…) The point is this: hands-on experiences put students in situations where they have to stretch themselves and their organizations…the particulars may vary, but the general skills are quite transferable.

Synthesis and Questions

One thing that’s important to realize is that different people have very different passions. I’ve tried to get my brother to start fencing, and he’s certainly tried to get me to become involved in Circle K (and now that I’m out of school, he wants me to join a Kiwanis Young Professionals group.) What so thrills and excites him there doesn’t speak to me, and vice versa. (Maybe I’m just a cold, heartless person and he’s a lazy, unathletic bum?) But in some respects, it’s OK that we have different interests…because there is plenty of opportunity for each of us to pursue our own passions and make changes on ourselves and on others.

The important thing is that if my brother didn’t enjoy what he was doing, he probably wouldn’t be motivated to do so much for it. I definitely feel the same thing is true for me. So, at the very least, pursuing passion has a direct impact on our ability to develop.

It’s true that certain organizations are going to be better at teaching certain kinds of things than others…but it’s also true that you could probably learn those kinds of things from other organizations in the same category. Or, to put in another way, while both my brother and I have learned to raise funds, seek out potential donors and maintain relationships with existing donors, network with various related parties, plan and host events, I’d be willing to venture that I get more exercise in fencing, but not as much of a community service impact as Circle K. However, for community service, Circle K isn’t the only option…and for exercise, fencing isn’t the only option either.

And so…that’s kinda what brought me back to EmJen’s post that I linked all the way up top. If we can recognize that different people can have different worship styles, then it would seem like a natural conclusion (at least to me) that they should be able to seek out different activities and organizations for pursuing those different worship styles.

World ReligionsWhat if we treated religion more like an extracurricular activity? What if we recognized more fully that, just like neither my fencing club nor my brother’s Circle K has a monopoly on leadership development, no one religion has a monopoly on personal or interpersonal moral development? Or even if we try to say one has “more” or “better” development, what would happen if we more fully thought about the possibility that different people can progress at different rates depending on whether they are pursuing their interests? That if there isn’t something about an activity that thrills and excites you, then perhaps that is hindering or plateauing your development across the board?

And I would say something more. A lot of the time, we focus on, “Is it true?” “Is it right?” I don’t mean to downplay the nature of truth claims in any particular religion (although, I guess having said that, I will inevitably proceed to do so), but what if we viewed truth claims of a religion as being a smaller percentage — say…two percent…– of the experience taken on the whole? What if we came to expect that people would seek to engage themselves with more than just book learning and classroom instruction?