When we moved to the mountains, we had absolutely no idea what we were getting ourselves into. During one storm we lost power for days and a landslide shut down the freeway. There were flash floods, deck umbrellas flying over the house and heavy metal lounge chairs ending up in the swimming pool.
After that experience we learned to deal with it … as did the California Department of Transportation and Pacific Gas & Electric. Twenty years later, we’re far more prepared and those mishaps are rare. But I do vaguely remember the Realtor warning us about that sort of thing. Did we listen? Apparently not.
People learn from experience. We have textbooks and lectures in school, but without repeatedly solving work problems, conducting lab experiments, taking tests, writing papers (and getting graded feedback on all of it) we wouldn’t learn a blessed thing.
Contrary to popular belief, we learn far more from experience than from books and blogs. Which begs the question, why are we all such information hogs? Entertainment I get, but all the self-help-style business content -- the lessons, habits, and listicles -- not so much. Most of it’s a complete waste of time. And I can prove it.
I was a straight A student as a kid, but when it came to language, I just couldn’t get it. My junior high French teacher suggested that, instead of just reading the lessons, I should speak the words and practice the translations aloud. He said our brains remember better that way. He was right. I ended up acing the class.
You learned to walk by taking a step, falling flat on your face, crying, getting back up and trying again. Eventually, you get it. I don’t care how intelligent or mature you are; if you had to learn to walk all over again, you would have to do it exactly the same way. No instructions, videos or books could substitute or accelerate the process. None.
That’s how the human mind works. We learn best from trial and error. We say practice makes perfect for a reason. It does.
To make matters worse, we’re usually far more resistant when it comes to comprehending information we don’t really want to hear. If it reinforces our belief system, we embrace it, feel good about it, get inspired by it. But if it violates our worldview or flies in the face of popular dogma, we reject it as nonsense.
I’ve been writing highly opinionated commentary on controversial topics for nearly a decade now. As you might expect, I’ve received countless comments and emails, but they almost always fall into one of two categories: positive feedback from those who agree with my point of view and negative feedback from those who don’t.
Stop and let that sink in for a second. It sounds almost obvious that it should be that way, doesn’t it? But if that’s the case, then why read it? I’ll tell you why, but you’re not going to like the answer. Mostly, we’re seeking self-reinforcement. And I’m sorry to say, that does not expand your knowledge one bit.
The other day, I received an email from a reader, “Hi Steve, I just read your blog, ‘How to Deal with Jerks.’ Loved your tough love approach, especially the last sentence: ‘If you’re running for the exit of more than one company, the problem is you,’” she wrote. “Yup, it’s me.”
Good for her. By being willing to challenge her own strongly held beliefs, question the status quo, and hold herself accountable for her actions, that reader actually benefited from the post. Unfortunately, I can tell you that is rare. Maybe one in a thousand, if that.
Had I written the sort of nonsense you read all the time these days -- that life is too short to work with jerks -- it would have reinforced the popular meme that the problem is always someone else, which is simply untrue. But I bet it would have gotten loads of clicks, likes, retweets and shares.
Some people are unusually open-minded and self-aware, but most just hear what they want to hear and believe what they want to believe. The only thing that will change their narrow-minded and self-centered viewpoint is real world experience. So here’s my advice: Quit reading and start doing.