Derek Johnson Muses

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Tag Archives: Personal Growth

Valuing College Through My Experience

Recently, I’ve read and heard Peter Thiel and Mark Cuban saying that education isn’t as necessary, and that people with visions should just leave college to work on their visions, and the education bubble will eventually collapse like the housing bubble did. There is some validity to this, but what their perspective doesn’t address is why higher ed is now bloated. While I graduated college, I have an experience that deals with

Over seven years ago, I received my college degree from Concordia University Wisconsin. My life at the time felt like a vacuum. I had no goals or long-term plans. I had planned all through college that I would go to seminary after I graduated and become a pastor, but in February of my senior year, I abandoned those plans. Being a rebel, I didn’t want to know what I was going to do with the rest of my life

Unfortunately, my plan had two critical flaws. First, I excelled in a field (ancient languages) which doesn’t pay in the real world, and I did need the extra work to get a degree and then find some way to make my expertise relevant, whether it be teaching or something else. Two, I was bored in college because I was so bright. I did get that when I moved back to my parents’ house and started shuffling through temp jobs. Even if it wasn’t seminary, I should have chosen another form of graduate school.

But what I’ve learned is, no matter what my situation is, I have to make something out of it. I wrote a lot, actually, but I continue to search for  passions. Working under my father in a self-supervised environment has been a real boon for me in accumulating, and my photography and work at the gallery has given me more passions. This blog has also helped me develop my writing skills and given voice to my ideas. Every day I have a motto: do something that makes progress on a project, and make the people in your world better at what they do.

But I haven’t let the question of graduate degree go, at least not yet. The one thing I wish I would have known back when I was how much harder it is to make life-changes when you’re in your late twenties.

Where a lot of Thiel and Cuban’s criticism should be directed is toward the quality of higher education; with more people demanding it, professors simply have to make their course work easier to accommodate student’s extracurricular activities and generally low minds. And due to tenure, professors don’t face the reality of constantly having to adapt or loss their jobs if they don’t. So much of college is about being young and enjoying, not getting ready for the realities of a harsh world.

Wish someone would have told me that.

(More Experience)

Better off out here?

Better off out here?

Harvest Lessons: Set Goals High

Celebrate Rarely, Grind Regularly -Colin Cowherd

Two weeks ago, the second harvest of silage samples was approaching, and I was facing a dilemma. The first harvest took me three days, plus two and a half extra travel days. Coming off my work days at the gallery, I’d barely had any time to prepare another show I’d agreed to do at the Civic Center in Seward. The thought of losing three more days that week and not getting back until Wednesday weighed on my mind. I planned to leave and stay at Tom’s Sunday night, but as I was doing and redoing routes on Google Maps, I realized that, the total drive time from Omro to Slater was seven hours and the total harvest time I need for the three plots was seven hours. I would be an extremely long day, but I could pull it off if I just went to Omro and started at six. The cost of a hotel room would be less than the gas I’d spend on a second trip.

I did just that, and it was one of toughest days of my working life. I got back to Slater after 10, and on the drive back to my parents’ apartment, I felt that I was at my physical limit. Although the extra time was irreplaceable, I had serious doubts about doing the same thing for the third harvest. When my father called and told me I’d have to do the third harvest on Thursday of the next week, I had my reservations about doing all three fields on the same day. Sure, it would be priceless if I finished early and could spend Labor Day Weekend relaxing at our lake house, but if I had a major problem, I could really get myself in trouble.

Last Thursday, I rolled into our analyst’s shop at 8 P.M. sharp, with all thirty-six samples from all three locations. I was really proud of myself, more so than I ever have been. I can’t really explain how I finished two hours earlier, except to say that I nailed the routine. With only a couple of tweaks, I did pretty much everything the same as I had the first time. But I did gain time in a couple of areas, some planned, some not.

-I left my motel earlier, while it was just starting to get light.

-I didn’t stop for coffee before starting. I acquired cold water and ice the night before and made Starbucks Via with it. (Side note: the Verona is good, but not as good over ice as it should be.)

-Last time, fog prevented me from getting to the Omro plot in a timely manner. (This time, I started harvesting Omro a whole half-hour earlier.

-Last time at Spring Green, I dropped my plot key that had sample ID’s written on it. This forced a ten minute search, then another seven or eight minutes for me to return to the truck to acquire a back-up. This time I found the dropped plot key and picked it back up.

-At Fennimore, I had previously parked further up the hill because I couldn’t find a way to back down and still get out. This time, I found a way to get further down. This saved at least fifteen minutes, maybe more due to less exhaustion from carrying samples up hill.

-The killer last time was going out of my way in Dubuque to download a podcast at Culvers, which took about forty-five extra minutes. This time, I was content with what I had on my iPod.

Through this experience, I learned a truism that St. John’s consultant for our building project shared with us. It’s fine to take survey and guess your limits, but don’t be afraid to set goals over those limits. Finishing that project a whole two hours early showed me the benefit of putting work first and not worrying about the small stuff. Now I’m writing this at our lake house, and I’m actually kind of proud of myself.

Triumph of the Harvest

Visiting the Chicago Art Institute

After my last trip to visit production fields and test plots, I accomplished one of my important goals for my artistic development and visited the Art Institute of Chicago. I’d walked past it several times, but to go and observe the paintings was something else.

Actually took this photo three years ago, but it’s the best one I have.

My sister and I took the South Shoreline in from La Porte, Indiana, where we enjoyed some quality reading/discussion time. We both agree-it would be so awesome to live someplace where you could ride a train every day to work, so you’d get an hour plus of quality reading time. I’d give up my car for that. After an early lunch at Corner Bakery (the greatest spice-mixing eatery on the earth) and grabbing some Starbucks coffee (they got my drink wrong), we were off to the museum.

Rolling in, we found that we were arriving on free admission day…for Illinois residents. But at least this meant there would be a lot of people in the museum, which I actually do like. I visited the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art on their free admission day, and it’s fun when there’s more people there. It makes it the place to be.

The Institute is way too big for its own good. My sister and I took over four hours and we still didn’t get through everything (although we probably did see over half of it). It took me less time to see every at the SF MOMA. The lesson I learned was don’t waste as much time on the abstracts on the things you don’t care for as much, spend time with photographs, twentieth century paintings, and realist paintings that you like.We didn’t even get to the Lichtenshien special exhibit. 1930’s cartoon have their place, but this is the Chicago Art Institute.

A couple of things stood out on this visit. First, the exhibition Capturing the Sublime: Italian Drawings of the Renaissance and Baroque, collection of strained drawing from the Renaissance, many of them nudes. I started glancing through them and thought little of them. I took first and second glances and found the drawings to be too distant, grayish and emphasizing tendon-like lines. Then I wandered on to the next exhibit and realized that a lot of my black and whites of barns are the same. Later, I came back and compared some of my photos, and there were probably more similarities than I would like to admit. Talk about a good dose of humility.

Asian art I still don’t get. I didn’t get it when I visit the Asian Museum of Art in San Francisco last year, and I don’t get it well. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy connecting with their culture, but overall, I think Asian art might have been the forerunner of the comic book. So many white glass dishes covered in wispy blue lines.But I do like their animal sculptures.

Like this guy

But the real moment of truth for me came when I was observing the American art. While I was sitting on a bench taking in the paintings in a particular room, I was draw to a patch of white light that stood out on a black tower. The painting looked like it was from an industrial city in the 1870’s or something, like Chicago, Dubuque, or Milwaukee. I was captivated by the way the box of light just jumped off the canvas and presented itself to me. I spent the rest of my time looking through the gallery the same way that painting presented itself to me, trying to find the hole of light in the painting.

When I visit an art museum, I love to sit back and soak in what it has to offer me. That’s why I made it a goal to visit the Art Institute in Chicago, and while it’s now my goal to visit the Met in New York, along one other significant art museum in my time in that city. That museum gave me so much new perspective, perspective that I need to grow as an artist and as a writer. Reflecting on it, I know my work has to get better.


Concordia: The Open Road Back

After I finished my tour of our Wisconsin Test Plots, I took a swing by my alma mater, Concordia University Wisconsin. I attended there from 2003 to 2005 and never quite felt that I grafted in. Since my graduation, I had returned the campus twice before, both times in the spring; once in 2007, while I was on a pleasure trip with my friend Tom, and again in 2008, when I was on a business trip, I walked campus one night among the students. I don’t really get sentimental about my school or consider it my personal height, but college is a time that enters my dreams frequently, and I relish the chance to kindle old memories

They now make you get a permit at a guard booth at the turnoff into campus, if you just want to go down and look at the bluff. The campus itself requires an access card to get inside, but after my walk on the lakeshore and around campus, I found a propped door and walked the hallways I once did as a student. In contrast to the new buildings, the halls are still lined with grossly obvious mosaic tile. The whole building is really just a contrast between shiny new buildings and un-updated doors, floors, and what have you. When I unwittingly ascended the fire-well of my old dorm, I saw the doors of the Augusburgh rooms remained the same pale shells with privacy glass they’d always been.

The dorm I lived four semesters in.

After I’d strolled my old stomping grounds, I took a seat by the bluff and wrote the following:

I’m sitting here overlooking the bluff at CUW. Beautiful summer day. This is like San Francisco in that there’s a huge structure next to a body of water.
Nine years ago in the fall, I came here to study to be a pastor. I’m not that guy any more, but a part of me never left here. The boy that was here was praying by a thread that he’d make it through seminary, that he could hold his mind together that long. (In retrospect, that boy never died). In the spring of 2005, I declared the enterprise a failure. Everyone around me had friends, and I would leave here with no social life to speak of. The embarrassment was unbearable; in the years that followed, I realized a lot of that was because I didn’t have the support structure a lot of people here had in terms of family. (Upon further reflection, there are two ways I didn’t have support. One, from my family, and two, I acted like a snob when I got on campus, not recognizing how getting to know people was important to personal development.)
I wish I would have taken more time here to get to know people and impact their lives. I do hope over the years I can reconnect with some of the people from that time, just to see how things have changed with them, and may be remember a good part of myself I lost.
It’s odd how much has changed here at CUW. When I went to school here, there were two buildings that looked semi-modern, Regents Hall and the athletic center. Now there’s the pharmacy school and the Center for Environmental Stewardship that has replaced the Peace Center dorm, the last rustic CUW building. New Coburg dominate the skyline. (The new buildings make the campus feel likes it’s a campus for a digital world, leaping off a crystal clear screen.)  I was shocked by the money they put into the baseball stadium, plus the soccer field (although I really shouldn’t be). But the only thing I wish I could have enjoyed in my day is the restored bluff leading down to Lake Michigan. Things are moving fast here, as well they should.
But the one place where the majority of my memories reside are in the Rogate Chapel. Today, I went in there and prayed for strength of faith until death. If that the only thing I learned here, it was worth it.


The hard part for me now, as I alluded to above, was the fact that I was studying to be a pastor and decided February of my senior year, that it wasn’t worth it. The decision not to go to seminary was a hard one: I was a very successful student in Greek and Hebrew, and everyone expected that I would go on to a doctoral program. But a lack of social support combined with a personal breakdown lead me off the course I was on.

It was over five years until I really felt like I had accomplished something outside of CUW. When my Dad gave me a lot of responsibility with testing seeds and I pulled through on it, I knew I really could do something right. That was a point in my life I found a self outside of my college self and began to realize that my life now was about what I had become.

Going back to my alma mater is hard, but making something out of that history into what I am is daunting. Because that place is part of what I am.


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