How to stop missing crucial opportunities for learning and growth
At a certain point in our lives we feel like we’ve learned enough.
University? Been there.
Professional designations and training? You bet.
Paid our dues? Yep.
We fly as quickly as possible through all this learning because we think that once we’re done, everything will be better.
We will be ready.
We will have arrived.
Because there, at the end of all this learning and training, we’ll earn more money, be more admired and respected, and just generally kill it.
But is that true? Do we ever stop learning?
The student and the master
There’s an old proverb I love:
When the student is ready, the master will appear.
What do you think this means?
You might think it’s about a student seeking a master when she is ready for more training.
You might think it’s about a master who seeks a student when the student is ready.
You might think it’s about destiny — that the student and master are drawn together by mysterious forces at exactly the right time.
I don’t think it’s any of these things.
I think this proverb is telling us that our masters — our teachers — are everywhere. The only thing holding us back from seeing them is our lack of readiness.
But, what does it mean to “be ready”?
Ego is the destroyer of learning and improvement
We’re mostly learning averse. Our egos hate being told we’re wrong. Our egos hate thinking that we’re not good enough as we are. Our egos hate thinking others are better or more knowledgeable than we are.
So, instead of seeing masters or teachers, our egos transform people into enemies and opponents — people we are working against rather than with.
Have you ever felt intimidated by an expert at a business meeting?
Have you ever felt outclassed by a competitor at a sport you play?
Have you ever read an article that commenters have gushed over, and then felt jealous and angry that this article is getting all the attention while your articles are not?
What most of us do in these situations is allow our egos to placate us by telling us sweet lies. Our egos tell us we’re better than the business expert, better than the competitor, better than the author. We just haven’t gotten our breaks yet. People are too stupid or too ignorant to see our genius or ability.
The ego pushes the responsibility of any shortcomings in our lives onto others, and in doing so prevents us from ever learning, growing, or improving.
What few of us do is see that we have a lot to learn from these people. How did that business expert get to where she is today? What kinds of things made your competitor so effective? What can you learn from the author’s writing and apply to your own?
Our egos’ need to be good enough already prevents us from seeing the teachers that are right in front of our noses.
What we should do instead
In Ryan Holiday’s Ego is the Enemy he describes the training program created by legendary mixed martial arts fighter Frank Shamrock. The program is called plus, minus, and equal.
Essentially, the program demands that each fighter engage in three different relationships (see here). The first is to learn from someone with more experience (plus). The second is to teach someone with less experience (minus). The third is to work with someone with the same amount of experience (equal).
Each of these relationships provides a different benefit to the fighter. Importantly, it hammers home the simple truth that everyone is at a different stage of their career. Everyone is on a journey. There is always more to learn, and we can learn from anyone.
By engaging in these different relationships, the fighter is forced to confront the reality of the situation, which is that he doesn’t know everything. These relationships help to quiet his ego and rid him of arrogance.
Because when it comes to learning and growing, ego and arrogance are the enemy.
As Epictetus said, “It is impossible to learn that which one thinks he already knows.”
Knowing and accepting that you don’t know everything is a form of humility and is the first step on the path to success. If you want to do great things you must be humble.
Because you don’t know what you don’t know, and other people can help fill those gaps. So, try to learn from everyone around you.
Remember: your teachers are everywhere.