Even in college—I won't lie—I felt the pull of what Alfie Kohn calls "extrinsic motivators." Yes, I found the intellectual challenges and learning enjoyable, but I also wanted to earn high marks and accolades from my professors and parents.
Fast-forward to today, when I am trying to learn Adobe Illustrator, a tremendously powerful and deep design program. No one told me to. I'm not getting college credits. I'm studying it and practicing it (and paying for the program monthly) because I want to. No one is grading me. No one is competing with me. My parents aren't alive anymore to shower me with compliments.
It turns out that learning what you want to is downright fun. I find my Illustrator endeavors absorbing, exhilarating, and rewarding. Every little micron of progress is gratifying. Every project I complete is thrilling. Every shortcut I master, every feature I discover, every complex sequence of steps I manage to remember... well, it's even better than getting an A.
I'm not alone in such self-motivated educational endeavors. My college classmates Heather and Abby are learning piano and drums, respectively. I have friends learning Spanish, pottery, and photography. My husband recently took a sewing class. All of us are beyond the domain of tests and grades and honor rolls. We're adults who are indulging in a primal human desire: to acquire knowledge, to attain skills, to advance and grow.
And if you'll excuse me now, I have some learning I want to do.