Learn or Improve

Growing as a person is an invaluable and essential goal to seeking happiness, success, and of course, fortune. The opposite of growth is decay, which leads to unhappiness, indifference, and trouble. I would actually argue that not growing is almost as bad as decay, as the simple lack of growth can be equally debilitating.

However, when growing as a person, the question always arises: do I learn something new – grow in a whole new area – or do I perfect a skill that I already have? Do I discover uncharted lands, or do I better define the maps of discovered lands?

Something New

I believe that learning something drastically new keeps the mind sharp – it is much harder and much more personally challenging than developing an existing skill for several reasons.

Firstly there is the whole social dynamic of learning something new as you grow older. No one has any fear of trying something new when they are young – it’s totally normal – but they become more and more adverse to new things as they age. By the time most people get to 30, they are very hesitant to try totally new things.

When I started learning the violin about a year ago, I experienced all of the awkward social experiences. I took my first lesson with several children (who must have been around 8 years old), who were better than me! Some of them would give me looks every now and then – I think I was holding up the class. If you can think of anything more socially humiliating, I would like to hear it.

However, learning that new skill has done wonders for me. It has given me a whole new skill set, empowered the creative side of my brain, and given me a great hobby that I can work on for the rest of my life.

I think learning a totally new skill is the most rapid and cataclysmic form of growth that one can experience – so much changes in such a short time – it’s like the farmer who clears and plants an entirely new field, rather than trying to improve on already cleared fields. The change to his crop output is drastic and noticeable.

Something Improved

The problem with just learning skill after skill is that you never become an expert in anything. At some point in time, you have to stop focusing on gathering new skills and you need to switch your focus to improving on skills you already have.

Perfecting skills is much less cataclysmic and noticeable growth – it’s like exercising, you might not notice the weight you lose after running one day, but do it for a couple months and you will start to see the changes. The same goes for perfecting existing skills. It’s the steady improvement and perfection of existing talents. That might mean taking a few advanced classes, practicing a little every day, or seeking guidance from someone better than you. Either way, it’s all about sharpening the saw.

Continuing the farmer metaphor, if the farmer never improved his technique (tools, approach, strategy) and simply planted more fields every year, he would eventually experience diminishing returns. At some point he needs to focus on improving his strategy and expertise – maybe a better plow, better planting technique, better harvesting machinery – you can’t plant new fields forever.

At the end of the day though, all that really matters is that you are learning something – beyond that, just make sure you have a mixture of new skills and old ones – learning and perfecting.

Blair Livingston 


** Have you gotten a copy of my new book yet? I Wish I Had Known: A Former Student’s Guide to University and College You can read about it here:https://blairlivingston.wordpress.com/my-book/ **


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