Should you really learn something new in 2020?

Jan 29, 2020

I’ve learned to be intentional about what I want to learn and with whom I want to study. To spend time reflecting on what I am curious about. What would help me do my work better? What is my soul needing? What is my mind craving? I no longer set out to learn something new every day just because.

How about you? Do you reflect on what you want to learn?

I didn’t always do this. I used to take classes, read books, go on retreats because I thought I should keep up or to be in on the newest thing. There was often a hungry ghost feeling to my learning.

Then I’d feel unsatisfied, yet overfull, and soon I’d go running to another course or podcast. I was always looking to learn something new, searching for THE ANSWER.

I’ve also gone too far the other way and become a bit cynical about learning. “Why bother?” That’s just another version of the same hungry ghost feeling.

I’ve (mostly) learned to trust my desires, to trust what beckons me to learn something new and to be more realistic about what I have time to take in.

Here are the prompts I use to focus my learning.

What do I want to learn if time and money were no object?

Consider anything and everything. For the next month, the next six months, the next year, the next five years.

What’s my motivation in wanting to learn _____?

This question helps me ferret out if my motivation is related to fears of not being enough or getting THE ANSWER. FYI: because it would be fun is a great answer.

How might I grow by learning __________?

By learning about abstract painting, I might grow to be a more patient observer of the world. By learning about Chinese medicine, you might grow spiritually. 

How could I learn this for free? Who could I ask for help?

There is so much great information in books, on the Internet, in your friend’s and colleagues’ brains, and already on your hard drive – all those programs and classes you’ve already bought!

If cobbling together your learning feels too hard, stop and ask yourself if you really want to learn this or if you just want to buy something that will make you feel like you learned it? Then go back and consider your motivation.

How will I measure my progress? What will be enough?

This question addresses the hungry ghost feeling of always wanting more, more, more, or signing up to learn something so you will finally be ready to do what you want. This question helps you get more clear on what exactly you want to learn. Maybe all you really want to learn is how to do this itty-bitty soldering thing that you can pick up from the woman who fixes your car rather than signing up for a two-year course in metallurgy.

Do I have time for this learning?

You may deeply desire to study yoga therapy or get a Ph.D. in data visualization, but if there isn’t enough time, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment and waste.

Am I using learning as an excuse to wait to take action on a desire?

Learning can become a way fear convinces you to wait until you know a little bit more, have another certification or degree, or feel a little more confident, and then you can do _______. If that is why you want to learn, I beg you to first:

  • Write a chapter in your novel.
  • Use some of your art supplies and make something.
  • Teach your subject at Toastmasters or to a group of friends in your living room.
  • Sub for a yoga teacher at your favorite studio.
  • Give a presentation at work on your subject.
  • Or….

There are a million ways in every field to create and share your ideas. Do that before you learn something new. Please!

And finally, what learning would give you true pleasure? Too often we sign on to learn things we think we should learn to prove ourselves to someone else, or because we are still pursuing a goal that we no longer care about. Why don’t we skip that this year?

Here’s to learning and growing until our very last breath.

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