“The capacity to learn is a gift; the ability to learn is a skill; the willingness to learn is a choice.”
– Brian Herbert
I am a firm believer that in this day and age, with the information highway quite literally at our fingertips, ignorance is a choice. No longer do we have the excuse of lack of resources by which to feed our minds, with the dawn of an intrinsically and globally connected human race. Got a question? Ask Google. You don’t even have to go to the library anymore – all you have to do is pull out your relatively tiny personal computer (your iPhone or android), tap the touch screen and within seconds the answer to your question appears on screen. In fact, thousands, if not millions of different answers or different versions of the answer appear on the screen! We are literally spoilt for choice.
It is for this reason that my mind is still baffled when I come across people who answer ‘I don’t know’ to a question without following it up with a Google search and discovery of the answer. How can these people be satisfied living in their ignorance? What on Earth possesses people to make the conscious choice to live in the darkness of ignorance when they have such limitless educational resources available to them? I’m still searching for the answer… maybe ignorance really is bliss. Regardless, mastery doesn’t come without a deep knowledge of a given subject, and mastery is what I’m all about. Learning, and constant never ending improvement is so important to me because of the unfathomably positive effect it has had on my life over the last few years, and continues to have to this day. There are few things more empowering than listening to an audio book on the way to work that teaches you something that you can implement in your life the second you arrive at work and start your day; instant added value, and I love adding value.
Learning is easy for some, and not so easy for others. One type of learning, say practical experience, is natural to one person, yet completely unnatural to someone who could be considered an academic.
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish on it’s ability to climb a tree, it will live it’s whole life believing that it is stupid.”
– Albert Einstein
The above quote from dear Albert is so true, and does an excellent job of highlighting the main issue with the educational institutions we have built to educate the generations that follow in our footsteps. All said and done, we’ve done a pretty shit job of catering for the widely diverse range of characters, skill sets and natural abilities and tendencies of our young. It’s a one size fits all approach to education, and it’s destroying the hearts and minds of young people the World over. They are told that if they fail in this ‘one size fits all’ system, then they will fail in life.
What a crock of shit.
My father left school with but two O-levels, and heaps of tenacity, drive and passion for electronics. He has built several businesses during his lifetime, including his most recent, The Studio People. Was it his two O-levels that facilitated such achievements? Doubtful. Was it his persistent drive, passion and tenacity? Absolutely. Perhaps we should shift the developmental focus of the next generation of thinkers and World leaders then to teaching those things that made my Dad successful, and indeed the same characteristics and attributes that resulted in the success of all the great entrepreneurs over the last few decades; Richard Branson, Elon Musk and Anthony Robbins to name but a few. It wasn’t GCSE’s or A-levels that got them to where they are today, it was their fiery passion fuelled tenacity, and as these men have demonstrated, it is these attributes that give them the power to go out and change the World as we know it.
Understanding why we need to perpetually educate ourselves and others, and understanding what to learn is one thing, but how to learn is something I haven’t seen covered a great deal and was something I struggled with in my earlier years of life. I never thought I was that bright, but I always seemed to have this uncanny ability to pick things up very quickly once my interest had been piqued. I often found myself frustrated though when I’d try to get into learning something new and would be left feeling like I was studying something that was written in a foreign language. I’d study a paper or read an exercise and one or two things would kind of make sense to me, but in the context of the whole, the information was nothing more than gibberish.
This experience left me feeling like I was of less than average intelligence, despite my ability to learn quickly and often discouraged me. Good job I’m a particularly tenacious individual, and that I don’t like to lose.
Self-knowledge and learning in general has been a massive part of my life over the last 3-4 years, and it’s opened doors for me in my life like you wouldn’t believe. I managed to figure out how I learn, and what the process and mechanism entails for me. I am very mechanical in my approach to things, and so I like to breaks things down into easily digestible pieces. I also love a challenge, so have no problem throwing myself in at the deep end of a completely new subject and seeing how I fare. The difference for me now is that I know it will be a challenge, and I’m expecting it. I have realised and accepted over the last few years that when I first start digging into a subject, I understand fuck all; but more importantly, I know that this is the first step to me understanding a bit, then a little and then a lot. Each of these steps in so important in the attainment of mastery in any skill or subject, and for me it was just a case of accepting that this is how I learn.
So, when I delving into something new, I know I have to find it stimulating and interesting. It has to challenge me, and it has to add some value to my life. I also know, and more importantly accept, that I won’t understand very much when I first start the learning process, and that even if I do understand the wealth of information I’m digesting, it is highly unlikely that I will retain a high percentage of it at first. These things that I once used to find demoralising and frustrating, have become part of the process of learning for me, and my acceptance of them as important parts of the puzzle to get me to where I want to be has been liberating and helps to keep me motivated and driven.
It might take several books, articles and conversations with experts before I start to grasp some of the basic concepts, but I trust in the fact that over time, so long as I stick at it and keep digesting information in my chosen field, that clarity and understanding will come. I’ve observed this process in my learning over many years now, and it is this self-observation that gives me the faith and confidence that, even though I feel like I’m getting nowhere to start with, I am building the foundations of knowledge in the subject before I can start to build the structure above of knowledge and understanding. As with building a house and looking upon the work from afar, you see nothing whilst the foundations are being dug and laid. It is only when the walls start to go up that you start to notice the progress and start to see the structure coming together before your eyes.
Don’t be afraid of laying the foundations, and don’t put yourself down because you’re ‘not getting it’. You won’t, at first, and that is the first and most important step to learning new skills and subjects. Knowing and accepting this is the best way to clear your mind so it is free from negativity and thus able to focus fully on the task at hand; being a better version of you through the attainment of knowledge.
Don’t be afraid of learning in different ways too; my MMA instructor once said to me that people learn in three different ways, and each of those ways will teach you things the others cannot. They are to be told/shown, to do, and to teach. You must learn a subject or skill through each of these mediums in order to achieve true mastery and a complete knowledge in any given interest. The teaching part usually comes last, because you need to be able to explain and demonstrate a skill yourself before you can possibly consider teaching it, yet you go into teaching prior to achieving mastery, because it is only through completing this third and final stage that you are taught the final lessons by way of seeing your existing knowledge in a new light, from a different angle/perspective. I’ve learned things about throwing basic kicks from teaching white belts that I could never have learned from being shown or actually performing them myself, though this is an element of the journey of growth and self-improvement that is often neglected by practitioners, and because they fail to embrace this ever such important part of the learning process, they never achieve true mastery. So, if you are a student of anything in life, remember that the very act of your teacher teaching is providing a lesson for them too – they are learning about the subject from a different perspective now, opening their minds to a deeper understanding of their subject/skill and putting them one step closer to mastery.
Everyone I know or have studied who has mastered something in their lives has taught others and realises this to be a key element of their own process of learning and self-discovery. This should serve to highlight the importance of ‘paying it back’ in life, and servitude to others, helping others be better versions of themselves, is the third and final step in the process of helping yourself. Everything is cyclical, everything is connected – service to others is so important. We owe it to ourselves to facilitate our attainment of mastery in our lives, we owe it to others to learn through their experiences what we were unable to learn through our own, and we owe it to the World and the generations that follow to ensure we have an army of masters in their respective fields to push the human race forward so that we, as a race, are perpetually committed to doing things better than we have previously done them. We have an obligation to ourselves and to our children to leave the World a better place than we found it – learning and teaching help us to bridge that gap.
Remember, we’re all geniuses; we just need to do the work to figure out what sort, and once found to pursue it with passion and tenacity. Together, we are changing the World – what part are you playing?
“We have a moral obligation to leave this World a better place than the World that we’ve found.”
– Tim McIlrath