Embrace Temporary Ignorance

“I don’t like learning new things” ~DMV employee

O Monday I was at the DMV getting my driver’s license renewed.  Before I left, my wife mentioned she heard on the news that the DMV would be working with a new computer system that launched the same day as my appointment.  This should be fun!

After I was called to the counter and told the DMV employee what I was there for, I asked how the new computer system was working.  She gave me a look that made me think things hadn’t been going well, so I let out an, “Oh no!”  Actually, she told me, things were going pretty well, largely due to all the training they had prior to launch.  She said she didn’t like not knowing all the answers to the computer-related questions her colleagues were asking.

That’s when she dropped the quote at the top of this post on me.  She mentioned she’d been doing her job for the last 22 years just fine and knew all the answers to all the questions and would rather not have to learn a new system and feel like she was starting all over again.

I get it.  When we learning something new, we have little experience and lots of ignorance.  It puts us out of our comfort zone, and that doesn’t always feel good.  For me, however, remaining intellectually stagnant, by not continuously learning new skills, is much more uncomfortable.

When learning something new causes me to be pushed outside of my comfort zone, I remind myself that I’ll only be uncomfortably ignorant for a relatively short time.  The discomfort of feeling ignorant will soon be replaced with confident competence.  It’s a cycle that should be familiar to life-long learners.

Don’t allow the discomfort of temporary ignorance to keep you intellectually stagnant.  Embrace the discomfort, knowing that your continued drive to learn the new skill will soon result in competence and the confidence that comes with it.

Keep Learning  

I haven’t read a book since I was in high school.”  ~ Someone on a poor growth trajectory

It’s amazing how much information we have available to help us learn new things.  What’s equally amazing are all the different ways we have to consume this information.  No matter what topic you’re interested in, you can easily access information, as well as people, who can help you learn more about it.  This reality is a tremendous blessing for anyone interested in personal growth and life-long learning.

Consider a topic you’d like to learn more about.   Now consider all the ways you can learn more about that topic, such as:

  • Books
  • Podcasts
  • Webinars
  • Websites
  • Audio books
  • Seminars
  • Classes
  • Computer-based learning
  • Meetups
  • Lectures
  • Magazines
  • Coaches and instructors
  • Self-study courses
  • People already doing what you want to learn

I don’t know about you, but I find this encouraging, from a personal growth perspective.  No matter what I want to learn, I can easily find content on the topic in a format that works for me.   Let that sink in for a minute.

If you think you don’t have time to read a book then listen to an audio book.  If you need more in depth explanation or assistance, you can hire a coach or instructor.  Whatever content you want to consume, there’s a medium to consume it that’s just right for you.

You simply have to avail yourself to it.

Pieces of a Puzzle

I’ve been learning to play the bass guitar for just under a year, and although I’m not very good right now, I’m really enjoying the process.  It’s like putting a puzzle together.

Each new concept I learn about the bass guitar is like an individual piece of a puzzle.  There are so many “pieces” of knowledge needed to successfully make music with a bass guitar.  For several months, I felt like I’ve just been collecting pieces of this bass guitar puzzle.

Lately, the learning process has become much more exciting, because I’m now seeing how some of the pieces of the puzzle I’ve been learning are starting to fit together.   Scales make more sense now because I understand how they are used regarding keys and triads.  Those pieces fit together with the concepts I’ve learned regarding improvising and composing.  It’s fun to see my understanding grow as the picture gets clearer with each piece I acquire.

I think it’s like that with any new experience we undertake.  The process seems to be:

  1. Collect pieces of the puzzle in the form of knowledge and understanding
  2. See how these pieces fit together
  3. The picture becomes more clear
  4. We go back to step 1 and repeat the process

If you’re trying to learn something new and are getting frustrated with the progress, perhaps you should change what you’re looking at.  Instead of looking at the completed picture of what you’re trying to accomplish, why not look at how the pieces of what you have learned fit together to give you a glimpse of where you’re going.  And keep in mind, with every new piece, the picture becomes a little clearer.

Act Like a Baby

Persistent

Determined

Tenacious

Focused

When you hear those words, does any specific type or group of people come to mind? Perhaps you think of a high achiever or someone who seems to get things done regardless of their circumstances.  For me when I hear those words I think of… babies.

Think about a baby that’s learning to walk.  They struggle to stand up, even with the support of a solid object, they wobble around, and they fall down.  But what makes me think of babies when I hear those words, is that after each setback or failed attempt, babies get back up and try again.

Once they get it in their mind to start walking, they will not be stopped until they achieve that goal.   They don’t quit because it’s hard.  They don’t complain because they suck at their first attempts.  A baby will repeat the process of getting up and falling down until they have mastered walking.

I stand in awe of the persistence, determination, tenacity, and focus of babies.

Is there any skill you’re currently trying to learn that has you frustrated and wanting to quit?  If so, I encourage you to act like a baby and embrace the process of falling down and getting back up to try again.

If a skill we’re trying to learn is truly important to us, we should approach it with the same level of persistence, determination, tenacity, and focus.

May we all be more like babies in this regard.

You Won’t Stay There For Long

Last Friday I bought my first bass guitar.  The following Wednesday evening I had my first bass guitar lesson.  I’ve been learning to play Louie Louie, Peter Gunn, Smoke on the Water, and Iron Man.  It’s been a lot of fun, but I’ve also realize something:  when it comes to playing the bass… I suck!

And you know what?  That’s exactly where I’m supposed to be.

Think about it.  We don’t go from being a beginner to mastering a topic in 1 lesson.  Learning is a process, and that process starts with not being very good (sucking) at whatever it is we’re attempting to learn.  It’s here where we begin identifying what we need to do to become better and then focusing our efforts toward that end.

When we suck at something, we have clear benchmarks to measure our progress.  In my case as a bass player, I’m sure I’ll suck next week too, but not as much as I do this week.  I’ll be able to see where I’ve improved over the last week and what I need to improve on in the week ahead.

The problem comes when we equate sucking at something because we’re new to it, with being incapable of learning.  As a result of this line of thinking, we often give up way too early without ever embracing the learning process and trusting that as we diligently progress, we will suck much less in the future that we do today.

I encourage you to get comfortable with the discomfort of the learning process.  If there’s’ something you’d like to study, learn, or pursue, go after it knowing that you’re GOING TO suck at first.  But also know that if you stick with it, you won’t stay there for long.

I’m Ok With That

Two and a half months ago I started a position with a new organization as a Data Analyst.  I’ve been extremely happy with the change and continue to be excited by tall the opportunity.  The only thing I wish were different was that I was further along in the learning process.

I love learning new things.  To gain knowledge and successfully apply it in a real life situation is exciting and causes me to be eager to go to work every day.  However, two things I have to continually remind myself are that:

  1. Learning is a process that takes time and consistency
  2. I have to be ok with that

When it comes to learning, I’d always like to shorten the process and spend less time fumbling around as new concepts slowly become familiar, so that I can start contributing sooner.    The reality is that I can never gain understanding or mastery of a topic if I’m not comfortable with the discomfort that comes during the learning process.

If you’re currently in the process of learning something new (which I hope you are) and perhaps you’re frustrated with process that may be slower than you’d like, be encouraged, because you’re on the right track!  Just know that your commitment to the learning process will pay off in understanding, if not mastery, of the topic.  And if it takes longer than you’d like, be ok with that.

Start With a Dot

Think about learning a new topic, whether for work, for fun, or for a changing life circumstance.  There is so much you don’t know at the beginning of the learning process that it can feel overwhelming or even hopeless; like you’ll never be able to master the topic.  So how do we overcome this feeling?  What’s the best way to start our learning journey, on our way toward mastery?  I say, “Start with a dot.”

Learning usually starts with a book, a lecture, Googling a topic, or a number of other methods to begin gaining basic information about a topic.  This basic information could be things like, vocabulary or acronyms specific to the topic, names of people in the field, specific dates, places, or events relevant to the history of the topic.  Think of each of these basic pieces of information as unique individual dots.

As you begin your initial discovery, the first piece of information you learn, represents your first dot.  Congratulations!  You now know something about your topic that you didn’t know before.  Now that you have your first dot, continue the discovery process until you learn another piece of information.  Congratulations again!  You’ve discovered your second dot.

So now you have 2 dots.  That’s good, but it’s about to get great!  Here’s where you begin to catapult your learning to a new level.  Take your 2 dots and determine how those 2 pieces of information are connected, in relation to the context of the topic you’re studying.  Begin connecting the dots.

Once we are armed with a couple of dots, we are now able to go to people who are more knowledgeable on the topic  and ask intelligent questions.  Our 2 dots allow us to talk in the language of the topic with someone who can help us:

  • connect the dots we already have, and
  • discover new dots and make connections to those dots from the dots we already have

Here’s an example:  When I was first learning to fly fish I learned that dry flies were flies that imitated bugs floating on top of the water.  I then learned that files called nymphs imitated bugs that moved along the bottom of the river.  With that knowledge, I was able to talk to people who had been fly fishing for many years and ask them about these 2 types of flies and how they were used.

After reading and talking about these types of files with people, I realized that I could use both fly types to represent a significant portion of an aquatic insect’s lifecycle, thus improving my chances of success on the water.  If the bugs weren’t on top of the water, I could switch to fishing with a nymph, and vice versa.  I now had an understanding of the importance of the roll each of these types of flies played in the overall topic of fly fishing.  I had connected my 2 initial dots about fly fishing.

As I explored the connection of my initial 2 dots, my number of additional fly fishing dots (and connections) began to compound.  I was rapidly on my way to increasing and applying my newly found knowledge of fly fishing.

The next time you feel overwhelmed at the beginning of a new learning process, just focus on identifying 2 dots.  Once you have them, look for the connection.  Then, repeat the process of collecting an additional dot and looking for the connections to the dots you already possess.  You’ll be surprised how quickly your number of dots and connections will increase.

An Opportunity to Practice

When I think of someone practicing, I think of a golfer going to the driving range, or in musician dedicating time to practice with their chosen instrument.  But what if you want to work on your human relations and communications skills, or develop some personal habits to live a healthier lifestyle?  How do you practice those skills?

Suppose I told you that you could practice skills like these during the course of your day, without setting aside a specific time to do so.  Interested?  Read on.

Every day we have untold opportunity’s to practice a behavior or develop a habit, simply by actively seeking out opportunity’s to do so.  For example:

  • Do you have a co-worker you struggle to communicate with? See every interaction with that person as a practice session to try a new techniques or method and improve your communication skills.
  • Are you trying to overcome shyness? Look for opportunities to practice overcoming shyness by starting up a conversation with a new person each day, or simply up start by saying “hello” to someone new.
  • What if you’re trying to lose weight or eat healthier? Look at each meal, snack, or craving as an opportunity to practice a healthy alternative.

What personal skills that you’re trying to develop would benefit from more practice?  Have you identified it?  Good!  How look for opportunities in your everyday routine to practice those skills.  However, if you really want to speed up your progress, seek out multiple opportunities every day.

Once you start looking, you’ll find numerous opportunities to practice the habits and behaviors you want to improve.  Before you know it, you’ll find yourself more competent and growing ever-closer to becoming the person you strive to be.

Throw Something Out There

Sometimes all that’s needed is an idea, even if it’s a bad one.

Have you ever been I a group where a decision needs to be made, but no ideas or suggestions are coming?  I have!  (In fact, I was in one such meeting less than 2 hours prior to writing this blog.)  These gatherings can be frustrating because the focus of the group seems be on the problem versus finding a solution.

Sometimes I find that what’s needed most in this scenario is an idea, any idea, just to cause people to start thinking and narrowing down the discussion toward a decision.  Throwing out an idea, be it good, bad, or ugly, gets the conversation off of the problem, and focuses it on a solution.

Say you throw out a bad idea to solve the problem at hand and no one in the group likes it.  Great!  The group’s negative reaction to the idea is the spark that begins the conversation toward a better idea, and ultimately a solution and course of action.

Don’t worry about looking dumb or foolish.  Instead, focus on starting the conversation and navigating discussion toward a solution.  Specifically, ask others what they think of the idea or what they don’t like about it or how they would change it.  Use their ideas to build on the initial bad idea.  Instead of trying to be the one that comes up with all the great ideas, focus on being the one that can take input from the group  and orchestrate solutions by leveraging the knowledge and wisdom of its members.

Look for opportunities this week to throw out initial ideas and then help others to shape and build them into a viable solution to the problem at hand. You’ll become a valuable contributor to your team and a person of action; a person who causes something to happen.

Reach Out and Renew a Connection

A few weeks ago I learned about a new professional field that focuses specifically on customers’ experience within an organization or business.  I was excited to discover this new field and eager to learn more about it and how I could become a part of it.

Through my research I found that a previous colleague from many years ago was currently working and active in this new customer experience field.  Since I was eager to learn more about this field, I thought I’d cause something to happened and reach out to them and see if they’d be interested in talking to me about their current position and the customer experience work they do.

I’m so glad I reached out to them!  We me t for lunch and spent over an hour and a half talking about customer experience, their role in the industry, and where it is heading in the future.  I got to ask a ton of questions and gained some valuable insight as well as suggestions for getting the field myself.  In addition I got to reconnect with someone over a common interest.  It was a great experience.

It’s so easy to avoid reaching out to others and asking for help, suggestions, or guidance.  However, doing so robs us of opportunities to build connections with others, which is actually fun to do.

Do you know anyone you haven’t talked to in a while who has experience, skills, or insights that you’d like to learn more about?  If so, don’t hesitate to reach out to them and make an appointment to talk with them over lunch, coffee, or any other event or venue that is conducive to conversation.  You’ll not only benefit from what they share with you, you’ll probably make the other person’s day b showing an interest in what they do.

Don’t wait.  Reconnect with someone today.