I remember a few years ago in a job interview I was asked what I had in my RSS feed. I couldn’t remember. I did have an RSS feed but I barely looked at it. I explained that I was working so hard that I didn’t have time to read much. It was a crappy excuse. I knew it. They knew it too and didn’t give me the job. Failing to read my RSS feed was a false economy. To read it would cost me time but also save me effort. The cool kids call it sharpening the saw.
These days my interests are expanding into subjects that I have no experience in. I’ve been exploring some of my theories in psychology, religion, health, town planing and governance.
Too many times I’ve invested substantial effort trying to express ideas that I ultimately abandon. One of two things would usually happen. I would discover glaring holes in my arguments or I would discover that there is nothing new about the argument I was attempting to present. Worse (at least for me and my ego), the existing argument is superior to anything I would be capable of writing.
It’s nice to have my theories validated, but ultimately it’s a waste of time. I don’t have to go through the rigmarole of the writing process to learn from myself. I can reach a more balanced conclusion with less effort by reading other peoples works. Exposing myself to a new perspective on a theory I subscribe to is infinitely better than attempting to explain to myself my own theory.
I’ve been making the same mistake as I did years ago when I neglected to read my RSS feed. I’m ignoring my avenue for fresh ideas. I haven’t read the prerequisite books to be allowed to parade myself about as an expert. I’m hacking away with a blunt saw telling myself that I’m too busy to take the time to sharpen it. Fresh ideas are critical in the learning process. They are how you become exposed to the answers you didn’t know you should ask.
I need to see myself as a student with much to learn. It’s easy to feel compelled to preach a half-learned lesson. It’s even easier to feel that the lesson isn’t half learned at all. It’s impossible to know what you don’t. A University student would spend a few years becoming familiar with a topic before being expected to submit a thesis. I’m jumping in with a half-cocked idea thinking that I’m going to change the world. It’s youthful arrogance and I’m getting too old for that.
As I read more, the value of reading is becoming more and more apparent. I’m becoming exposed to worlds I thought existed only in my head. Sometimes lessons appear just as I need them. Sometimes I have disagreed with the sentiment of a book only to become persuaded by it’s content.
It’s time for me to pull my head out of the sand and stop pretending that I know what I’m talking about. I’m going to stop writing about things that are outside the scope of my personal experience. Expertise will come through exposure and experience. For now I need to sit back and read, learn, listen, ask questions, experiment and play.
One of my initial goals was to become a better writer. That goal hasn’t changed. I’m still going to write, I’m just not going to write so much unpublished work. In the last six months I’ve written 13,000 words that will probably never be seen. I don’t intend to do that again.
I did smile a smile of relief when I learnt that Amanda Palmer fell into the very same trap.
i picked it up RIGHT before flying to australia to write “the art of asking” and i was floored when i started reading: brené and i had WRITTEN THE SAME FUCKING BOOK
I’m not saying Amanda isn’t an expert, only that it’s probably impossible to completely avoid the trap of writing something unoriginal. I think I’ve learnt my lesson now. I can see what I was doing was wrong and I’m changing.
Doing something is always better than doing nothing. Knowing the best thing to do is what differentiates an expert from an amateur. Sometimes the expert knows the best thing to do is sit down, chill out and give your saw a bit of a sharpen. Maybe I’m becoming an expert on learning. Maybe I should read more about it before I make such a wild claim.
I made this decision around November and it’s already beginning to pay off. I’ve learnt and grown so much. These are the books I’ve finished so far this year:
- The Further Adventures of Robinson Crusoe
- The Alchemist
- Tuesday’s With Morrie
- The Bicycle Diaries
- Sex At Dawn
- Man’s Search For Meaning