Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Learning is Change

Whenever someone asks me to fix a computer problem because they're "bad at that sort of thing", I tell them I wasn't born good at it, myself. I've just lived through enough computing issues to have learned how to handle problems, aggravations, and disasters.

Something goes wrong, and I dig for answers. Sometimes it takes hours, but those hours are spent learning. I don't perceive it as suffering, I chalk it up to growth. And the next time the same thing goes wrong, I know what it is and how to resolve it.

People who are "bad at this sort of thing" are just people who choose not to grow. When you have an ingrained self-image of Not Knowing, every problem's a dead end. The self-image supersedes resourcefulness.

For years, I drove $1200 beater cars, and came to experience every scenario of car trouble. I never learned mechanic skills, but cars no longer seem mysterious. Repeated failure brought experience, and experience yielded wisdom.

Rereading my SIGA postings, it's disorienting to hear myself fluently analyzing biotech stocks. How did I get here? Here's how: I invested a significant chunk of my savings into a very promising biotech company that turned out to have a stormy, troubled development curve. I had no choice but to learn.

Same thing when I reread my story of Chowhound's growth and sale. Who would have guessed, during my musician days, that I'd grapple with such business issues? It honestly doesn't fit my self image, even now. I know how to run a big web site? And manage workers? Me? You're kidding! But once Chowhound became unexpectedly popular, it was either "learn" or "drown". There was no choice.

Some realms remain slow and sticky in spite of repeated efforts. I'll never be deftly expert at design or home repair or a few other things for which my faculties are ill-suited. But, as I've explained before, some of those slow, sticky realms are the ones where I actually cough up some of my best results, albeit slowly and with great effort.

Scientists say it's very difficult to learn new skills after one's mid-twenties. I think they're slicing that wrong. What happens is that it becomes very difficult to imagine (and to tolerate) change as one's self-image solidifies. And learning is change.

But when learning's compelled by dire circumstance (as it seldom is in a rich, complacent, laziness-accommodative society where help's cheap and abundant), change becomes attractive. And then you'd be surprised how much you can learn.

If you want to learn, either place yourself in intensely compelled circumstance (that's what Outward Bound is), or else seek out ways to artificially self-compel. Passion or anguish are the classic routes, and the former's way more fun.

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