This afternoon I sat down at my desk to learn some new technical concepts and I quickly immersed myself into the content. Each page of architectural diagrams and instructions contained many terms that I had never encountered before. At the start, most of it seemed like gibberish.
Each unfamiliar term was a hyperlink to another page with several paragraphs of more unfamiliar information explaining the original term. I kept plodding along and pretty soon I had a dozen tabs open and I was deep in the learning forest, hacking my way through it inch by inch, step by step.
After a while, I had to take a break and so I stood up to stretch and clear my head. I felt the uncomfortable but welcome daze that comes from getting deep into a new subject and thoroughly absorbing it. I just stood for a while, staring out the window at the trees with that 1,000-yard stare of mental exhaustion. I love that feeling. Tomorrow, when I come back to the material, I’ll be moving faster. Concepts will be clearer. Everything will make just a little more sense and the snowball will start rolling down the hill. One day, I’ll have completely mastered the subject, but that would never happen without taking the time to sit and absorb the gibberish until it starts to become familiar.
This is a common occurrence not just in my field of work, but in life. The persistence to continually expose oneself to the unfamiliar things that make no sense is essential. It is the difference between success and failure.
Learning the Language
When I sense people getting frustrated with the unfamiliarity and mental exhaustion, I always refer them to the same video (just humor me here and watch the video):
It’s almost a running joke around the office now. When someone is trying to learn something new and getting frustrated, I can just say “13th Warrior Campfire Scene” and everyone knows what I mean. I don’t even remember the movie at all, and there’s a decent chance that it wasn’t very good in the first place, but that one scene has stood out to me since I saw the movie almost 20 years ago. It so perfectly captures what it is like to struggle to learn something, to just keep showing up and “listening,” until one day it all clicks.
The world is constantly changing and in order to continually learn and grow, it’s important to routinely sit down at campfires and learn from those who already speak the language. It’s going to be total nonsense for a while, and that’s ok. In fact, that’s actually desired. Just keep showing up and sitting down at the campfire and eventually it is going to click. Persistence leads to mastery.
I find campfires in all types of settings:
- A dense technical document.
- The amazing group of people at CampFI.
- A new book.
- A podcast.
- Yoga and Meditation classes.
- CrossFit class.
There are so many great teachers in the world if we are willing to experience the discomfort of walking up and sitting down at the fire, even when it all sounds like gibberish. It’s how we equip ourselves to take on bigger challenges to go conquer the world.
So go ahead, have a seat at the fire and learn some things.
But, don’t spend all your time at the fire. Get up and go for a hike through the woods. Make a new trail. Build fires of your own, and invite others to sit for a while.