Learning a Skill is Boring Unless You Know It’s Greater Purpose
I was a camera gearhead in college. I was proud of it too. But, I embraced that identity to a fault because I neglected something much more important.
The consequence? My skills weren’t good enough to help me survive in the real world.
Here’s my background. I majored in Cinema and I had an obsession with camera equipment – lenses, lights, software, you name it; I nerded out over them.
So, I had high grades when it came to the technical aspect of my projects. My storytelling skills? Subpar. And, I wasn’t interested in developing them. Making things look cool on camera was more attractive to me at the time.
When I graduated, I had trouble making videos that clients would like. The shots were beautiful, but they were emotionally dry.
I realized that a video doesn’t have a soul if it lacks a strong story. I had to play catch-up on building my storytelling skills.
That experience showed me that ignoring the foundation and the context of the discipline you’re learning will only put a damper on your potential.
Here are some examples:
Videography? Learning to take fancy shots isn’t your main goal. Becoming a strong storyteller through video is.
Coding? Learning a programming language isn’t your objective. Learning to solve problems through software is.
Statistics? Producing fancy regression analysis isn’t your main goal. Finding insights so you can make informed decisions is.
Here are three ways to tell if your pursuit of a skill is skin-deep.
- You’re learning to use a tool
Elon Musk puts it nicely this way: when showing a child how an engine works, you don’t start by teaching him how to use wrenches and screwdrivers.
Instead, you start by showing him how to take the engine apart. When you do that, the importance of the tools becomes relevant.
Musk shared that insight within the context of solving problems. I believe it applies to learning a skill as well. If you think about it, why would you learn a new skill if you won’t use it for something?
But, If you have to start by learning how to use a tool, do some research to find it’s greater purpose. Photoshop, for example, is a tool. It’s greater purpose? To create eye-candy images that will get your audience mesmerized by your work.
- It’s boring
I hated writing code in college. It was boring to me then.
But when I got a job as a digital marketer, I was given a task that was repetitive and error prone. So, I decided to write code to automate the process.
Since I haven’t coded in years, I had to look up some tutorials. A few days later, I had a perfectly working app written in Python. I executed the code and baam. Weeks worth of work got done in an instant.
And here’s the thing: I had a blast. The skill that bored me to death became fun because it became relevant.
Most of the “boring” skills we need to acquire are usually the ones we have to learn in school. Unfortunately, the school system doesn’t do a good job at showing the context of the skills that students need to learn.
Take algebra, for example. It’s an abstract class that most kids (and adults) hate, but we use it everyday in our lives to make decisions without knowing it; it teaches us to make optimal decisions. If my teacher explained this to me in high school, I probably would’ve paid attention.
One of the cures to learning a boring skill is to find its relevance to your situation via good old research. Do a Google search. Ask your teacher to help you out. Talk to an expert. Etc.
- You Think It’s Cool Because You Saw It On Tv
We all fall into this trap sometimes. When we see a character on a show with badass skills, we tell ourselves, “I want to be like that person when I grow up.”
For example, flashy martial arts on screen don’t work in real life. Hackers don’t gain access to a network in less than 5 seconds. Musicians don’t become experts within a short period of time.
TV shows can be a source of inspiration to get you started, but remind yourself that they’re not entirely realistic.
How To Get Beyond The Surface Level of a Skill
Use the internet
There are a lot of people who write and make videos about a discipline you may be interested in. I’ve personally watched lots of them on Youtube.
Reading books and taking online courses are valuable resources as well.
Talk to someone who has the skills you want
Find out the obstacles they encountered. Ask how they overcame them. It’s also worth asking the mistakes they made so you can avoid them.
Finally, tell them what you know about their skills. Then, ask them if your existing knowledge is a misconception or not.
If it’s not, cool. If it is, ask to be corrected. There’s nothing worse than spending 6 months learning a skill only to find you don’t like the job it’s used for.
For example, I went to nursing school and learned, well, nursing skills. When our clinical started, I found out that I didn’t have the stomach to work in a hospital.
Five months of my life and thousands of dollars were wasted in a semester. I would’ve saved myself some heartache if only I put the time and effort to investigate the nursing industry.
Explore on Your Own
An epiphany tends to be more valuable when we stumble upon it on our own. Heck, we tend to fight for it. No amount of coffee conversations with mentors can make your discoveries more meaningful.
So, immerse yourself in a discipline without any expectation. Explore it to your heart’s content and don’t hold back until you find the context and relevance of that skill.
If you want to learn a skill in record time without using the boring and monotonous structure of the school system, read Learn Faster By Questioning the The Way It’s Always Been Done – Using Tim Ferriss’ DiSSS Framework