I Love The Steep Part of the Learning Curve

One of the things I’ve always enjoyed is the steep part of the learning curve.  I tend to get bored pretty easily, which is why I have a bunch of different interests and hobbies.  That way, I always have something to keep me busy.  But recently, with me pushing myself to move forward every day in a lot of different ways, not just my writing, I realize that I enjoy learning the most at the beginning of a subject.  It’s that initial realization that there’s a lot more to the subject than I initially thought, that initial eye-opening to an entirely different world, that really grabs my interest.

I started learning French a few months ago.  I’ve always been fascinated by the French.  Language, literature, their history, etc.  But, in high school, I didn’t have these interests, and I chose to learn Spanish.  It seemed much more useful, and at a time in my life where everything else I was learning seemed totally useless, Spanish made more sense to me.  I took two full years of Spanish culminating with a European trip.  I’m not fluent, but I know quite a bit of Spanish.  I can speak like a 3-year-old.  But every time I’d hear French, it would be tough to even distinguish one word from another.  And the sound.  In the Matrix, one of the characters says, “Swearing in French is like wiping your ass with silk.”  I don’t know any swear words in French except mierde, but I can see how that would be true.  It’s a lovely language.a

Then there’s also my love of watches, and a lot of the parts and techniques have French names.  I’m embarrassed to even try to pronounce them and sound foolish.  So a few months ago, I was turned onto an iPhone app called Duolingo.  It has a free version and I can spend a few minutes every day learning.  It fits my needs perfectly.  And I find the learning experience of my third language fascinating.  I now can distinguish some French words.  That’s the part of the steep learning curve that’s fun to me, the massive jumps in movement in your education.

I’m also learning how to draw, and the same thing is happening there.  I get much better with a little effort.  Because I don’t know anything when I learn a simple technique, I’m able to make huge strides in the quality of my work.  Computers are much the same way.  It’s like a door is opened and a whole new world is presented to you.  I think I may be addicted to that initial realization.  It’s at the heart of my intellectual curiosity.  It’s why I want to learn more, why I want to get better every day.  Eventually, I will get to a plateau in these subjects, but with a language and drawing, that will literally take years, so there’s no real fear of me getting bored there, but I’ve seen it before.

That last mile of knowledge is the toughest to get, and the least interesting for me as well.  At that point, you’re already more knowledgeable than most people in a subject so you can begin to utilize your knowledge.  Like by writing about it from an expert opinion viewpoint.

How can I help, if I’m still learning?

When I focused myself on writing last year, all the advice I read said to focus on helping others.  In the back of my mind, two thoughts came to me.  First, I didn’t want to help anyone, I wanted to write.  Second, how could I help anyone, when I was just learning myself?  Now that I’ve been writing all this year, and posting a bit, I see where I can help others.  As I learn and post about my experience, others come forward and ask questions.  From those questions, I see a path forward, I see a need, a market for my writing.  While I never thought about writing to an audience before this year, I see now how that’s the most important part.  I honestly don’t care what I write about as long as it’s something that interests me.  I won’t be able to do much that I don’t enjoy unless it’s something that helps me make a transition from my current career into a freelancing one.  I know I’ll have to do work I don’t enjoy, that’s the nature of work.  

So the more of these subjects I learn, the more experiences I have that I can write about, and the more potential markets open up to me.  My desire to be a modern renaissance man is mixed in here as well.  All of these things, my curiosity, my love of the learning curve, and my enjoyment of writing about the experiences, are mixed together.  Another one of the fun things about learning – you see new connections across subjects that you didn’t realize existed.  That’s what I aim for in learning.  I like to learn something enough that a new connection is realized.  At that point, I think I’m past the steepest part of the learning curve.

It’s like spinning plates

In my day job, I use analogies a lot to explain complex things to non-technical people.  It’s one of my strengths.  One of my favorite analogies is the plate-spinning analogy.  I use this one to explain how you typically need a lot of work up front to get things moving, but then, once they are moving, it only takes a little effort to keep the plate spinning.  Watch the plate-spinner at the circus.  At the very beginning, that’s one busy guy.  It’s a huge amount of effort to get all those plates balanced and spinning.  But once he has all the plates spinning, he has a lot less work to keep them spinning.  Momentum at work.  Inertia, pure fucking physics in action.

Learning is just like that.  It’s getting one plate spinning.  A huge amount of work up front, that melds over time into something that just requires a little touch now and again to keep spinning.  I want to learn subjects like the plate-spinner.  I want 10-12 going at the same time.  Unfortunately, I only have 24 hours in a day, and I know I need sleep.  I tried not sleeping once, it didn’t end very well. So I have to be stuck at that initial plate-spinning ramp-up period across multiple subjects at the same time.  As I move from one to the other, trying to increase my knowledge, I know I’m working towards getting all these plates spinning.  I try to touch the main ones every day.  I write every day, I learn my language every day, and I read something every day.  No rest for the wicked.

Other things, like drawing and learning new computer programs, methods, etc., are done when I have the time, not every day, unfortunately.  But as one plate gets fully spun up, I move to something else and start all over.  It’s about that time that I realize how much I enjoy that initial learning.  It doesn’t make me lament the amount of work I still have to do to get knowledge.  It reminds me how much I enjoy the journey.

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