The greatest innovators of our time were knowledge ho’s. I mean it. Albert Einstein, Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates. They spread books open like there’s no tomorrow. They were thirsty for answers. They liked hard questions. They hooked up with their local libraries. They were driven by their curiosity. They made their own syllabus for the school of life.
I wonder what would have happened if they had just caved in to their insecurities and given up at some point. How can we be like them? Elon Musk is a prolific reader. Albert Einstein was a rebellious nerd who got too bored with the rigidity of schools. Ditto with Jobs. How can we continue learning after leaving the educational system for good (at least for now)?
I’ve known that I loved photography even before I knew I could be a writer. I wanted my first camera so bad, I forced my parents to drive to the nearest SM to buy one for my birthday even if it was flooding. It was all fun and games until my mother got me a DSLR for my high school graduation a decade later. I really had to suck it up and try to be good, to be worthy of the expensive piece of camera equipment. I let myself get intimidated by my lack of talent. I buckled under the pressure of taking photos that would fit right into Flickr and Tumblr. Eventually, the camera gathered dust as smartphone cameras became more advanced.
My peers who pursued the art relentlessly are now names (or usernames) you will recognize. I, on the other hand, diverted my attention to other things. Graphic design. Choked on that, too. Writing stuck, mostly out of luck, but trust me, I almost chucked it, too. I just always seemed to hit a wall, a formidable perceived limitation of what I thought I could do. And instead of spurring me, the giant, ugly, M-word, induced more stasis — mediocrity.
What separated me and the rest who continued the pursuit of their craft is that they took their passion seriously. It didn’t have to mean that they had to do it professionally or that they made money off of it — that’s just the smoke in the chimney. What we don’t see is the fire burning beneath. They devoted themselves to a craft because *cue Selena Gomez voice* the hearts wants what it wants, doesn’t it. And I’ve learned that regardless of your path in life, should you have the opportunity, you have to develop the keen intuition of determining what your heart desires, and valuing that. Stoke that fire, because it will breed curiosity, and insatiable thirst for growth and learning.
Do you know what you want to know?
Here’s what I’ve learned about learning. It’s important to learn how. I’m still learning myself, but I’ve discovered two key things: one, you have to take yourself seriously. Two, you have to learn how to learn.
If you are to learn a skill on your own, it has to be your own fancy. There are enough shoulds in the world, and learning is something you should do for yourself. Listen to your desires. Whether it’s studying how to excel at MS Excel (God bless you), or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, it’s gotta be for you. Life is short. Ask yourself: what would I like to learn about the world? What have I always been curious about?
Next, you must ask others. Accept that you are dumb and that you know nothing. I always say that the most useful phrase to learn first in a foreign language is: “How do you say (word) in (Foreign language)?” That way, the whole language is opened up to you. Same with photography. “How do you do this?” “I wonder how he or she took that shot.” A world is just a question away. Whatever you want to know — ask your friends, ask Google. Ask Google, ask YouTube, ask a dead person (by consulting his/her remaining work.)
I honestly don’t think all of us can be Einsteins or Musks. But I think the most important thing is to be able to share their love of learning. They say people with a growth mindset are more successful than a fixed mindset. To hell with success. I say that people with a growth mindset lead happier and healthier lives. They sure are way more fun to be around.
Remember, you’re doing this for fun. No report cards, no pressure, no group work — welcome to the world of lifelong learning.