By Jean Fan
When I first joined the UnCollege team last year, I wasn’t sure if I qualified as a hackademic. My story contrasts sharply with Dale’s. I went to public school from kindergarten to the twelfth grade. I didn’t escape the school system; I did well in it. My path thus far has been very typical, and going to college is still in my future.
I got into Stanford this spring, and at first, I kept my admission a secret. I wasn’t sure how the rest of the UnCollege team would react. When I shared the news, they were incredibly — almost overwhelmingly — supportive.
That’s when I realized the true meaning of being a hackademic: It doesn’t matter what path you take. It matters what mindset you have.
The Hackademic Mindset
A person’s mindset is their most important and telling trait. The way you think has a strong impact on the way you act, and the way you act determines who you are. Here are five key aspects of a hackademic mindset:
1. You ask for advice, but you make your own decisions.
Because you’ve equipped yourself with enough knowledge and enough sense — perhaps this means consulting your team of friends and supporters — you feel confident in your ability to make rational choices.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t risks involved with your decisions. It also doesn’t mean that each one you make will be the “right” one. What it does mean is that you make decisions based on what you want to do, not what other people expect of you.
2. You don’t blindly follow a path. You choose the education that’s best for you.
You’ve carefully thought about what, why, and how you want to learn. Maybe that involves dropping out of college. Maybe it doesn’t. Perhaps you’ve decided to take a gap year in between high school and college. If you’re in college, you know why you’re there, and what you want to gain from it.
3. You take initiative. You don’t wait for others to tell you what to do.
You’re always looking for ways to go above and beyond. You know that when you show up matters far less than what you do. Whether you work for yourself or you work for someone else, you innovate.
When you identify a problem, you solve it. Letting it slide is not an option. Neither is just meeting someone else’s requirements. You hold yourself up to your own highest standard.
4. You are always still learning, and you treat everything as a learning experience.
You realize that reading a textbook is far from the only way to learn. Learning is a process that you plan to pursue throughout your entire life, not just into your early twenties.
In every relationship, interaction, and experience you have, you ask yourself: “What have I learned from this?”
5. You may encounter setbacks, but you know that you’ll be successful.
Life has its ups and its downs. You’ve accepted that you won’t always be happy or motivated or satisfied. In fact, you know that sometimes you’ll be quite miserable.
Hackademics Are Everywhere
In the past few months, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know a wide range of people who I’d consider hackademics. Some are full-time students. Others are hard-core entrepreneurs. Some are 17. Others are 71. Some live in California. Others live in Brazil.
Hackademics are everywhere. It’s awesome.
Let’s try this again: Hi. I’m Jean, and I’m a hackademic. And you? You are a hackademic too, if you choose to be.