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Things I wish I’d known when I was younger

Things I wish I’d known when I was younger
Little Star

    Most people learn over time, but often learning comes too late to be fully useful. There are certainly many things that I know now that would have been extremely useful to me earlier in my life; things that could have saved me from many of the mistakes and hurts I suffered over the years—and most of those that I inflicted on others too.

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    I don’t buy the romantic notion that my life has been somehow richer or more interesting because of all the times I screwed up; nor that the mistakes were “put” there to help me learn. I made them myself—through ignorance, fear, and a dumb wish to have everyone like me—and life and work would have been less stressful and more enjoyable (and certainly more successful) without them. So here are some of the things I wish I had learned long ago. I hope they may help a few of you avoid the mistakes that I made back then.

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    • Most of it doesn’t matter. So much of what I got excited about, anxious about, or wasted my time and energy on, turned out not to matter. There are only a few things that truly count for a happy life. I wish I had known to concentrate on those and ignore the rest.
    • The greatest source of misery and hatred in this world is clinging to past hurts. Look at all the terrorists and militant groups that hark back to some event long gone, or base their justification for killing on claims of some supposed historical right to a bit of land, or redress for a wrong done hundreds of years ago.
    • Waiting to do something until you can be sure of doing it exactly right means waiting for ever. One of the greatest advantages anyone can have is the willingness to make a fool of themselves publicly and often. There’s no better way to learn and develop. Heck, it’s fun too.
    • Following the latest fashion, in work or in life, is spiritual and intellectual suicide. You can be a cheap imitation of the ideal of the moment; or you can be a unique individual. The choice is yours. Religion isn’t the opiate of the masses, fashion is.
    • If people complain that you’re too fond of going your own way and aren’t fitting in, you must be on the right track. Who wants to live life as a herd animal? The guys in power don’t want you to fit in for your own sake; they want you to stop causing them problems and follow their orders. You can’t have the freedom to be yourself and meekly fit in at the same time.
    • If you make your work your life, you’re making your life into hard work. Like most people, I confused myself by looking at people like artists and musicians whose life’s “work” fills their time. That isn’t work. It’s who they are. Unless you have some overwhelming passion that also happens to allow you to earn a living doing it, always remember that work should be a means to an end: living an enjoyable life. Spend as little time on the means as possible consistent with achieving the end. Only idiots live to work.
    • The quickest and simplest way to wreck any relationship is to listen to gossip. The worst way to spend your time is spreading more. People who spread gossip are the plague-carriers of our day. Cockroaches are clean, kindly creatures in comparison.
    • Trying to please other people is largely a futile activity. Everyone will be mad at you sometime. Most of the people you deal with will dislike, disparage, belittle, or ignore what you say or do most of the time. Besides, you can never really know what others do want, so a good deal of whatever you do in that regard will go to waste. Be comforted. Those who love you will probably love you regardless, and they are the ones whose opinions are worth caring about. The rest aren’t worth five minutes of thought between them.
    • Every winner is destined to be a loser in due course. It’s great to be up on the winner’s podium. Just don’t imagine you can stay there for ever. Worst of all is being determined to do so, by any means available.
    • You can rarely, if ever, please, placate, change, or mollify an asshole. The best thing you can do is stay away from every one you encounter. Being an asshole is a contagious disease. The more time you spend around one, the more likely you are to catch it and become one too.
    • Everything takes twice as long as you plan for and produces results about half as good as you hoped. There’s no reason to be downhearted about this. Just allow for it and move on.
    • People are oddly consistent. Liars usually tell lies. Cheaters cheat whenever it suits them. A person who confides in you has usually confided in several others first—but not got the response they wanted. A loyal friend will stay loyal under enormous amounts of thoughtless abuse.
    • However hard you try, you can’t avoid being yourself. Who else could you be? You can act and pretend, but the person acting and pretending is still you. And if you won’t accept yourself—and do the best you can with what you have—who then has any obligation to accept you?
    • When it comes to blatant lies, there are none more egregious than budget figures. Time spent agonizing over them is time wasted. Even if (miracle of miracles!) yours are honest and accurate, no one else will have been so foolish.
    • The loudest noise in the world is the sound of people whining. Don’t add to it.

    Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order, who now lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his other articles at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership and life. Recent articles there on similar topics include Chickens, eggs, and happiness and Why perfection isn’t a viable goal. His latest book, Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization

      , is now available at all good bookstores.
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      Last Updated on January 21, 2020

      Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

      Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

      Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

      This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

      The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

      The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

      Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

      Curiosity

      Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

      People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

      Patience

      Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

      When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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      Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

      A Feeling for Connectedness

      This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

      A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

      The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

      How to Self-Taught Effectively

      With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

      1. Research

      Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

      Learning the Basics

      Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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      Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

      What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

      Hitting the Books

      Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

      Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

      Long-Term Reference

      While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

      My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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      2. Practice

      Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

      A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

      Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

      Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

      3. Network

      One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

      These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

      Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

      Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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      4. Schedule

      For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

      Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

      Final Thoughts

      In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

      If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

      At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

      More About Self-Learning

      Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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