3rd of May every year marks another passing year of my life. While talking to friends over the years, I am always asked about my reflections for the year. Well, this time I am taking that question a bit too seriously. Here are my top 3 learnings from this past year.
1. Social skills are as important as technical skills (if not more!)
I did not grow up as a social guy. I was taught that hanging out with friends, or dating, or immersing in conversation are distractions to be avoided. I also went through the whole IIT-JEE period in which the only thing I did for two years was study. Hours and hours a day. In fact, I used to study B to take a break from studying A.
Fast forward to college, where I used to skip parties and celebrations thinking it was the right thing to do. I arrogantly mistook that as the moral high ground. Look at these distracted party goers, they don’t have a sense of priorities. Turns out it was I whose priorities were screwed.
People are the biggest source of happiness we have. If you can’t be good with people, you are going to have a hard time being happy. Today I try my best to confidently chat up strangers, speak up in groups, and ask out women I like. And boy, do I feel much better in my skin.
2. Trauma must be released, or it will rule you
Here’s a question: why did I shy away from social scenarios? Why was I not going out, despite rationally knowing it is good for me? Most people, including myself, would have said that I am a shy guy. Or I am an introvert. Or worse, I am a meditator.
These were all superficial excuses. When I looked deep enough, I found trauma. Not any big-T trauma, but little-t traumas. All the subtle ways in which I was conditioned. Disobedience gets me punished. Sexuality brings me shame. The world is an unfriendly place. If only I have a good career I’ll be happy. These are some of the messages I have internalised as I grew up.
The net effect of any kind of trauma is disproportionate fear. It is important to recognise this force, and quench it at the earliest. We all have our baggages, in extents large or small!
Tip: I recommend reading this book, On My Own Side by Aziz Gazipura, for starters. It will highlight several unhealthy spirals that your mind spins for you, and also show some way out. Work with a good therapist if you can afford it.
3. Directness is how you learn better
One of the great joys of my life is to learn. Learn anything, really. This whole year, I was learning salsa and bachata (I still do, just the coronavirus halts all social dancing), and in this lockdown I am learning the guitar. Of course, I also constantly have to learn different skills for my neuroscience academic life.
Here’s the thing. You can become better at learning itself. It is a thing to learn how to learn; meta-learning, in fact, could be life’s most important skill.
If you want to 10x the quality and quantity of your learning, master the art of being direct. Like, if you want to learn a language, practice speaking that language. If you want to learn the guitar, practice songs. If you want to learn web development, build a website.
Shouldn’t this be obvious? Yes, except when you realise that most of schooling is indirect learning. It is based on the mistaken notion that what you learn inside the classroom will translate seamlessly outside the classroom. However this approach is incomplete; in most domains you have to learn to apply your skills in its environment.
That’s why you will not get better at tennis if you don’t play matches. You won’t score well in tests if you never practice sample tests. And you won’t become fluent in French if you only learn vocabulary. See Scott Young’s book Ultralearning for a fantastic discussion on directness, and other principles of learning.
Okay friends, there you have it. My reflections for the year. Text me what you think! Or use this contact form.