I love to learn.

I’ve always liked to imagine the process of reading books and learning new things as “downloading” information into my brain. A movie esq scene comes to mind where they hook my brain up to a million miscellaneous cables, click a button on a computer and BOOM…I’m instantaneously a kick ass stoic who knows karate and speaks six different languages.

I spend a lot of time learning. But I’ve recently realized that my narrative on learning has been all wrong

As much as it pains me to admit, I find a lot of pleasure and value from the self help and self development genres. The information that I end up taking away from those types of books drives me as a person and as a result, provides a lot of hope in my life. But when I think of my journey as a learner, that journey feels like a story full of frustration and lost potential. I am constantly faced with the fact that I don’t have a whole lot to show for it.

So what the hell have I been doing? (It’s the narrative).

Like I said, self help books are great. I’ve found a lot of value in them. But over time, I’ve noticed something that I consider to be incredibly dangerous.

No self help author has it all figured out – none of us do. Best case scenario the authors of your favorite books have found a little bit of success for themselves and want to sell you on the ideals of the life that they have created and experienced for themselves. They’re dishing out a whole bunch of life advice under the context of “it worked for me.”

The problem is, the rules of good writing teach us to be masters of our subject. Somewhere in between the generation of an idea and final publication, authors lose the marquee of “offering advice as someone who has experienced failure and eventually found something that works well for me” and revert to being all around masters of life in general.

It’s not that they’re even doing anything wrong, in fact I think most of them start off with terrific intentions. But like I said, somewhere along the line those intentions seem to get lost in the sauce.

So, what? Do we boycott the self help genre in general and revert to getting our life advice from cookbooks and Harry Potter instead?

Not necessarily (you probably shouldn’t ever listen to Paula Dean about anything and Harry just got lucky a lot).

I think we have to take consumption into our own hands.

If we digest a modern self help book, we are looking at the author as someone who is successful. They’ve figured out this whole life thing and are probably living a much happier life than us…right? So we take that and run with it. If they offer a simple piece of advice, we’re going to implement that advice into our lives so that we can hopefully live a life similar to theirs.

But this isn’t quite how life works.

Life is incredibly circumstantial. What works for one may not work for anyone else. What works for many, may not work for you specifically. Context is more important than the advice itself. If we define our growth by these tasks that authors have set up for us, we’re setting boundaries on where these ideas may take us, or worse, where these ideas may take the opinions of ourselves.

So if the authors have good intentions and none of this is necessarily their fault, then who can we blame?

My challenge to you is to not seek answers externally, but internally. I no longer want to think of the information we consume as “tasks” or “commands” to be implemented into our daily life. Rather, they should be seen as something to be nurtured and cared for…To eventually grow into something great.

I like to think of them as seeds.

The seeds that we attain from actively consuming life’s content should, on a regular basis, be spread and planted in order to grow. The fate of each seed is left up to one out of three options…

  • Some seeds will land among thorns and gravel. These seeds will never grow into anything and that’s okay. Yours just wasn’t the environment they needed to grow and the sooner you can come to terms with this, the sooner you can move on to care for other seeds.
  • Some seeds will land in good soil and grow naturally by themselves, just as the original author intended them to. Occasionally these “commands” sent from the author are applicable to your life and provide a lot of long term value. The key is to recognize the healthy seeds and care for them while disregarding the unhealthy seeds that will only take up your time only to eventually wither away.
  • Some seeds will land among other previously planted seeds. They’ll grow together and intertwine into new things the world has never seen before. This is where it gets really cool.

The point is not to plant a single seed and wait for it to grow, but to diversify your ideas into a well rounded garden. A garden with anything and everything that you might need to become sustainable off of your own ideas. This is when creativity turns into production. This is also when you’re able to look back on your learning journey and not feel that same frustration and loss that I feel.

The field in which we grow our thoughts and ideas is important as well. We should spend time preparing, cultivating, and expanding this field. These are the processes, habits and tools we use for knowledge management (note taking, reading, etc). But we should never let this hinder our ability to collect seeds. A well kept field is nothing without seeds planted in it.

And in the same light as the self help genre, I too have no clue what I’m talking about. But I’m going to challenge myself to implement these ideas going forward. To continually plant new seeds and to water and care for them daily. Plucking out the withering ideas and weeds but learning from them in the process. I challenge you to do so as well.

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