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Why Learning Is Hard

Our society wants everyone to have a minimum amount of knowledge. That’s why governments everywhere pay for schools, children are encouraged to study, and those with little knowledge are considered inconsequential, at best.

Everyone is strongly encouraged to finish high school, those that do are deemed to possess a minimum, but adequate amount of knowledge.

If you have a university degree, you possess additional knowledge that others don’t, and become more unique. The more unique your knowledge, the more scarce you become and thus society will typically value you more.

But that’s it. There is nothing after university. Society will completely pay for high school, the minimum amount of knowledge everyone is expected to have.

University may or may not be subsidized, but never free like high school was. After that, funds are cut off and you must go forth into the world and apply your lessons.

By that point, most people are exhausted with the learning. It’s hard learning, because learning always means making mistakes, and making mistakes erodes your confidence by making you feel vulnerable to yourself and others. It causes you to second guess yourself, to gradually slow down your decision making, making you feel ineffective and can wreck havoc in your life in numerous ways.

In school it’s not as bad because everyone makes mistakes, you make friends and figure out how to get by together. Schools offer lots of ways to support students.

But the minimum amount of knowledge taught in school is not complete. Life consists of a lot more than what we’re formally trained for: managing your money, investing your time, buying big ticket items, following your dreams, dealing with your own mortality, attracting a good mate, staying motivated, eating well, making babies, making friends, learning to pick yourself up, how to cope with loss, etc, etc.

We learn how to deal with all these things outside of school. And learning outside of school means making mistakes outside of a lot of support groups, which makes learning especially hard.

Mistakes also seem to be more costly later in life. Failing a job or marriage seems more consequential than failing at grade 8 math.

That’s why most people stop learning, or at least their thirst for knowledge becomes partly quenched.

During school, my friends and I were tripping over each other making mistakes, learning, and trying to have fun doing it.

But life became more complicated after I finished my education. Me and my friends stopped tripping over each other and I increasingly found only myself tripping over my own feet. It was easy to look up from where I fell to see others moving on past me, confident and totally unaware of me as they carefully walked around me.

You see, I’ve always been a builder and considered building something people use and love to be a major goal in my life. The feeling of self-appreciation that goes with accomplishing a goal like that would give me a very deep sense of humble pride and genuinely make me feel fulfilled with my life.

Equipped with that kind of motivation, I spent a lot of my free time in my 20s and 30s building things. In addition to my 9–5 job, I’ve built multiple video games, I have co-founded a couple tech startups, I wrote a sci fi novel, and I’ve built and run dozens of websites.

Not many people use any of this stuff, though, so I don’t consider my life goal complete.

But yet, I was surprised to feel this deep sense of humble pride and fulfillment with my life. I expected that until I was rich or famous, I would be a lowly ball of stress trying to make ends meet.

But despite being stressed and trying to make ends meet, I wasn’t lowly, I was confident. My posture was improving, I was eating better, I was more and more fearless while being more careful than I’ve ever been. And I was starting to get a bit of attention and make a bit of money.

What I learned is that it is important to to always be making mistakes. If I wasn’t making mistakes, I wasn’t learning. If I wasn’t learning, I wasn’t reinforcing past experiences and growing new ones. If I wasn’t reinforcing past experiences and growing new ones, I would forget them, and increasingly rely on experiences and memories that only got me through the day-to-day.

That’s why when I wasn’t learning, my life felt like it was on autopilot more and more as I got older. I also felt a void developing where there used to be a sense of direction.

After years of trying to understand how I work, it became clear to me one day that feeling fulfilled requires patience and treating life as an unending process of elimination, ie. learning.

It doesn’t matter what you want or where you are in life. To get to where you want to be, the surest way to get there is through trial and error and knowing that constant iteration is always better than delayed perfection.

As nice as that sounds, the problem is that learning is still very hard.

There are only so many blows a person can take, only so many times you feel ok asking for help, only so much effort you can put in without seeing results, and very few ways to feel good about yourself when our society constantly clucks about how you should live your life, spend your time, and spend your money.

Going online feels like visiting a giant colony of 7.5 billion seabirds on a tiny rock in the middle of the ocean.

I once thought that I was stuck in my life, that I was spinning my tires and wasting my time. I thought life was shit and I was just getting shit everywhere.

But I’ve learned that that’s not true. Life isn’t shit, it is manure. And with some patience and some care, incredible things can grow from manure.

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