It seems popular, these days, for coaches and consultants to talk about ‘continuous learning’ or the ‘learning organisation’.
Learning is like sex – everyone nods knowingly when it is being talked about, but few are actually doing it well or at all.
For me, learning a new skill is hard – especially if you are unconsciously competent – i.e. an expert, in another domain. Although I take baby steps and mentally (an emotionally) prepare to feel inadequate or stupid, that preparation does not fully protect me against those feelings. I do feel frustrated and stupid when I learn something new.
I’m not one of those naturally curious ‘take it apart to see how it works’ nerds. I need a reason to do anything – even if that reason is simply to have some fun. Luckily I am a solution dreamer – to problems that I see everywhere and even those that haven’t yet peaked. So, what I lack in curiosity, I make up for in imagination.
Of course, learning is only the beginning – think of it as an introduction to a new skill. You are barely becoming competent, you are simply prepping yourself to begin. Practice, once you have the basics, is really where I make all my solid, sticky learning. This holds its own hardships too.
My preferred style of learning anything is to have a goal – for example, when I learned to knit, I set myself a goal of knitting a scarf.
This goal-focused approach means that I can focus my learning, ignoring those things that may be valuable but do not directly move me towards my goal. It also means I have a reason to practice – rather than to learn, it is to create my goal.
What often suffers when I take this approach is that I skip a whole load of important theoretical back story of why certain things are the way they are. But on the plus side I get something tangible quickly.
Every step of the learning experience, especially in the early stages are painful. I feel frustrated that I’m making such slow progress. I find having expertise in a related domain makes things worse.
For example, as I learn React Native to build my Personal Relationships Management app – “Percy” – the WTF/min are really high because I know how quickly I can achieve the same functionality in Java or Ruby – both of which I code with some fluency.
Of course you hear those well meaning fools who harp on about ‘make it fun’ – clearly they haven’t done any learning recently. How do you make the constant feeling of inadequacy or the sense of being a dumdum any fun?
When I learned to juggle, I remember feeling physically sick from sense of failure when – in spite of my best efforts – I just couldn’t keep three balls in the air at the same time. Until I did and that sense was immediately quashed forever.
This turnaround is addictive – and anticipating when I will get beyond the tunnel of crap into the light of palpable competence – itself is exciting. It’s a rush. It’s what keeps me showing up to learn and improve.
The capabilities you develop are rewarding – if nothing else, this new skill gives you a new set of filters and paradigms to see the world through. It gives me a new world from which to draw metaphors from.
So – of course it hurts, but it’s worth it – so do it anyway.
How does learning affect you and why do you show up?