Thoughts on Learning Without an Agenda
Turns out that being locked inside during a global pandemic leads to some introspective thinking. I put together a quick hit on my new approach to self-improvement learning.
It’s easy for me to get excited about a new idea. It’s especially easy if it involves diving into a nascent or emerging space. Once I the spark of an idea, I naturally start to imagine the future steps in my head: “Once I figure out this, I can do that, then I’ll add on this, …, and then boom I have a cool new amazing thing to show-off.” It sounds like the building blocks of a great success story. But, as I’ve come to realize, creating this larger plan can also spoil all of the initial excitement and turn it into an overwhelming chore. Based on my experiences and failures, I want to propose (and hold myself to) a new method. By “learning without an agenda,” I mean staying in the moment, tuning out any hypothetical action plans, and focusing solely on the excitement of a new idea.
I’ve been running yearly fantasy football projections since I was in college. I initially did it for fun and to hold a competitive edge over my friends. But, a few months after graduation, I discovered an online machine learning course. I saw it as an opportunity to dive into a “skill of the future,” and I could use my fantasy football project as learning ground. I was super excited, and my mind started running with plans. I could develop career arc models, try to drum up a social media following, and create a video series.
So, I started on the course, made a Twitter account, and put up my first video. But shortly after, my interest in churning out weekly rankings and putting in all of the social media effort was fading fast. I was waiting for a Monday Night Football game to end, and I thought to myself “why am I doing all of this… It’s fantasy football.” I called everything off, and I immediately felt a huge lift off of my shoulders. But, since I tied taking the course to my fantasy football plans, I lost my excitement to learn as collateral damage.
A few days ago, I came across a talk from the instructor of the online machine learning course. The light bulb went off: “Maybe I should try it again>” As I was thinking, I started coming up with a few project ideas, but this time I caught myself. I realized that it will be impossible for me to make progress if I keep diverting my focus to these other ideas. The ideas weren’t what brought me to want to take the course, it was just the spark of interest. To move forward, I needed to filter out all of the extra pressures I was creating for myself.
My new approach is that the more we can filter out the extra pressures of plans and project ideas, the easier it will be to focus on learning these cool new things and open up our future to whatever follows.
If others have had the same struggles, I hope that my story helps reframe your approach. It’s still early for me, but I’m trying to follow my own new advice and get back into reading, writing, and learning. Let’s see how it goes.
My Upcoming List
- Coursera — Machine Learning
- a16z — Crypto Startup School
- Competitive Strategy by Michael E. Porter
- The Signals Are Talking: Why Today’s Fringe Is Tomorrow’s Mainstream by Amy Webb
- The saved articles in my browser tabs
- Send me other ideas! @MSilb7 on Twitter