Boundless #43: Five foundations for learning?
On learning, powerlessness & quitting the corporate world
March 16th, 2019: Greeting from Taipei!
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#1 Why do people say they like learning more than they actually do it?
“We live in such a wonderful age to be a learner”
A reader from last week offered this in response to me sharing my motivation behind writing this newsletter. He asked how long it takes me to write this newsletter. I replied that it takes me about 1-2 hours each week, but much longer if you count the hours I spend reading, writing and in conversation with amazing people around the globe about all these topics.
It works for me because that’s how I actually want to be spending my time. I have always known learning was a motivator for me, but I don’t think I ever knew how central it could be until I took the leap to self-employment. In my corporate career I would love the first 3-6 months of every job and then get restless after the inevitable plateau after 3-6 months.
That is to say I claimed to love learning, but really was not taking ownership of it. I was giving ownership of my own learning to corporations and then getting frustrated when they didn’t prioritize my own curiosity.
For the last two weeks, I’ve been spending three hours a day studying Chinese. While many glorify learning as fun, it can also be an excruciating process. Sitting in my class yesterday, I was hearing words, but my brain was saying “too much, too fast.” I’ve mostly been keeping up, but at that moment I really just needed some distance to digest it all.
I’ve been thinking a lot about learning as I’ve been immersed in the class. After taking the amazing course “Learning How To Learn” I know that some of the biggest factors to me actually learning the language are not actually just “trying harder” or deeply studying. Taking breaks between learning sessions, sleeping and exercise may be just as important as my actual intention to learn the material.
However, I have realized that even though I had the intention to learn in the fall, I plateaued once I solved the problem of saying Yīgè Zhūròu dàn chǎofàn, Dài zǒu and Wǒ shì bǎoluó.
In the past two weeks I’ve made a lot of progress, but I’m thinking about what might keep it going once I ended the class. Channeling my inner strategy consultant I created a five piece framework to think about what is helping now.
So why is learning so hard? I think because getting these five elements aligned at the same time can be almost impossible.
I think this is also why people still default to thinking about grad degrees and universities as places where you go to learn. By opting into an academic degree, you naturally align your environment, time and feedback mechanisms around forcing yourself to learn.
In the real world, we want to be seen as “learners” but its almost impossible to constantly meet the base level conditions to achieve that aspiration.
I don’t have a guaranteed solution here, but if you have the desire to learn something, see if you can apply these five items and see what’s missing? How can you solve this gap?
It is a magical time to be a learner, indeed, but it doesn’t mean its all that easy.
What have you tried to learn and succeeded or failed at? Why?
#2 Gabi Macra and her journey from basketball to the corporate world to the yoga mat
I met Gabi in Bali at a conversation about the future of work. She shared her journey from the corporate world (as an actuarial executive) to her current path, which involves reinventing herself as a Yoga Therapist.
What we covered:
Her drive and motivation as a basketball player
Her experience living and working in Japan after university
Starting her actuarial career and what she enjoyed about work
Becoming successful but questioning her role as a successful worker as the center of her life
Her decision to take a sabbatical and leave the company (and how she ended up staying for 18 months but doing so with a completely different mindset)
Her recent creative projects, “learning experiments” and decision to start a long-term Yoga therapist training program
#3 Flaws in liberalism?
I’ve been reading Patrick Dineen’s book The End Of Liberalism which raises some provocative questions about the liberal (the democratic idea, not the political party) pursuit of the autonomous self:
In contradiction to our contemporary political discourse, which suggests that there is some conflict between the individual and centralized power, we need to understand that ever-expanding individual liberty is actually the creation of a sprawling and intricate set of technologies that, while liberating the individual from the limitations of both nature and obligation, leave us feeling increasingly powerless, voiceless, alone—and unfree.
In the book he talks about liberalism’s “incapacity to foster self-governance” which I see clearly when I reflect back on my time and the powerlessness I felt in the corporate world. Even when I knew it was ultimately my responsibility I constantly would find myself in situations where I could easily blame the “system” while at the same time proposing a new, shiny and improved system to fix everything once and for all (see above re: learning).
We constantly are in a position to seek freedom from the system while undermining it with our fixes. This tendency combined with the continued growth of our modern economy likely drives a lot of the pain, insecurity and anxiety many people now feel as part of this system.
I highlighted this as the “dark side” of consulting, and also talked about this contradiction with Luke Kanies. Essentially the flaw of big company strategy consulting approaches is that it pushes for more individual creativity, collaboration and innovation for employees while supporting massive top down centralized policies that undermine those things.
Implement, diagnose, repeat.
#4 Reads, Quotes & Listens
📚 Weekly Boundless Reads #108
📝 I published Beyond Work Sucks: What To Do If You Are Miserable
💰My monthly financial report from February
Janet Matta offers some reflections on work and having a child:
Except it turns out the stigma of pregnancy and motherhood is nearly everywhere. I learned quickly to not mention my maternity leave or new baby in prospecting meetings, because when I did, I was quickly brushed off, and the overuse of "mom" and "mother" in the rest of the conversation made it clear that I was seen as a mother first, not as successful professional. The women in my new mom's group (all with professional careers) similarly expected to hop back into their high powered corporate gigs and be welcomed back with relief and open arms, and instead have largely found themselves stepping back into shell-like jobs where their tasks and teams had been farmed out elsewhere, leaving them bored or disempowered.
April Rinne offers a challenge to cities to focus on incentivizing freelancers to come to their city instead of tax incentives for corporations:
The future of work and cities go hand-in-hand. Those cities that embrace, encourage and celebrate independent workers will be at the vanguard of change and victorious in the war for talent—a feat that no Amazon could top.
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