When I graduated from high school, I was determined avoid any future school at all costs. Parents, grandparents, and mentors relentlessly urged me to reconsider. They couldn’t conceive of someone who had acceptance at several respected universities, the financial means to attend, and a family legacy of academic excellence, throwing away such a grand opportunity.
For awhile, the consensus was that I must just need a gap year, or that I might be interested in vocational schooling. In other words, that I would wait to follow the preferred path, or follow a somewhat less acclaimed path. Neither of these sounded appealing to me. What I really wanted was to live in the real world.
There were some entrepreneurial aspirations floating around in my mind after graduation. If I’d approached the right mentors then, I may have been on my way to starting a small business. What I needed were people who were comfortable with uncertainty—with looking at the available paths, deciding they all suck, and walking straight into the forest with a machete.
After a few years, I found these people at 402 5th Street in Lynchburg, Virginia, where I currently sit writing. We call it a makerspace. It’s a fantastic cross between a community workshop, mad scientist laboratory, forum, and retreat. Most of all, it’s a haunt of the most productively weird and cool people I’ve met to date.
What strikes me most is a childlike approach to learning—the idea that your immense knowledge of nuclear engineering may mean bupkes when it comes to configuring quadcopter controllers. You’ll find old teaching young, young teaching old, and everyone eager to share their knowledge. If there’s a piece of donated equipment sitting around that nobody’s using, there’s an unspoken invitation for you to pick it up and dust it off. With enough time, you’ll be the local expert.
With enough time and dedication, I am certain that one could gain a much richer technical and artistic education at my makerspace than could be earned at a traditional university. How the hell does this place only cost $60 a month!?