The Expanding Mindset: A Challenge

This morning’s National Genealogical Society 2015 Family History Conference’s opening session welcomed eager learners. Attendees are scanning the week’s schedule and mapping out which sessions they most want to hear. Presentations relevant to their research work, workshops that will advance already expanding skills, and anything delivered by a favorite presenter. That’s so comfortable. It’s what we do. It is how we tack on a bit more knowledge.

It is also how we remain just a tad stagnant. Never stepping outside of our comfort zones. Staying with that which we consider relevant.

Occasionally, if we expose ourselves to something so new, incredibly different, and what we might consider irrelevant to our areas of interest, we will actually learn more to apply to the research specialties that we most love.

Say what?

I’m challenging you to step outside of a comfortable learning routine. Be adventuresome. Change the mindset that all which you endeavor to learn about must be on a topic that you already know or care about. Today. Tomorrow. Every now and then.

If you are at the NGS conference, find a session on a topic that you know nothing about, and that you can’t imagine applying to your own work or to your client work. And instead of attending another session on a record set that you know well, a state that you are well-versed in, or a talk that you have heard before, go to something that you know nothing about. A topic that you can’t imagine being useful in your personal research.

You will learn. And you might find a way to apply some of what you have learned to your  personal research.

If the location is not relevant to your work, perhaps the methodology used to solve a problem in that location will resonate with you. A new resource without borders might await you.

The switch in routine is refreshing. A refreshed brain is more willing to work with you on your research problems than one that is tired, a tad bored, and completely unchallenged. Education requires challenges if one plans to grow. Otherwise we would all have elected to stay in kindergarten, becoming the resident experts on colors, the alphabet, and the art of raising one’s hand.

If you are not at the conference, take a peek at other educational opportunities. Webinars and local genealogical society programs on unexplored topics. Passed over journal articles.

Find something, anything, that is new. A topic that will at first make you want to wiggle in your chair wondering when the experiment will come to an end. Something that forces you to pay full attention, that causes you to say “I didn’t know that!” Something that tells your brain to wake up and get to work!

A genealogist is tasked with setting the course for his or her own very unique and personalized genealogical education. We usually attempt to tailor that precious education to that which is most obviously useful. Lessons missed aren’t as obvious as lessons learned. Lessons await each of us in every session, should we choose to attend.

Random session selection is a bit of a hobby of mine. Perhaps it started when I wasn’t satisfied with a session I thought I needed, or maybe I had heard most of the talks before. I looked at the schedule, waiting for something new to appear (not unlike opening the refrigerator door repeatedly, while awaiting for something tasty to arrive) and marched into a talk on a topic that I would never need to know about, and which I knew nothing about. I was gifted with a delightful session, an engaging presenter, and something clicked.  I was learning at a rate at which I had not learned in the other sessions I had attended at that conference.

It’s not a shocker, considering that I knew nothing on the topic. But it was useful. In part, it made me think more about records that I had never considered existed. If these records existed, what else was I missing when learning with mindset blinders on?

It was refreshing. I learned that I had been limiting my education by only choosing to  learn more about that which I already knew, or that which I had an interest in. It was a liberating experience.

I don’t always get to drop in on random conference sessions, because when you teach, speak, volunteer in booths, and attend board meetings, there is often little time left for actually going to talks! But when I do have the luxury of attending sessions, I’ll go over that schedule, mark things I would love to attend, and then pick something from the wallflowers that are left on my agenda. I’ll pass over one of those which tempted me at first and second glance, and head to one where my blank slate can get some much-needed chalk.

Expand that mindset, and push beyond your self-imposed educational boundaries. Take the challenge to remain an advancing genealogist.

Toodles. I have a session to attend.



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