Sunday, May 3, 2020

How to Succeed in Life by Learning from Others

There is no doubt that everyone wants to succeed in life. The problem, of course, is how. While there are different approaches to answer this question, here I’d like to emphasize one principle:
As much as possible, you should avoid learning things yourself the hard way.

There are at least three reasons for that:
1. It takes a lot of time. Learning things yourself the hard way often means months or years of unfruitful efforts. That’s a large price to pay. Isn’t it better if you can use that time in a more fruitful way?
2. It’s mentally draining. Failure is a good teacher, but it can also make you feel miserable.
3. It consumes your resources. Unfruitful efforts may take not only your time but also your other resources, like money.
It doesn’t mean avoiding failure at all costs, though. Doing that will only make you too cautious to take action. Instead, what I mean is that you should minimize the chance of failure while continuing to take risks.

To do that, I believe it’s essential that you learn from the experience of others. Many people don’t take it seriously enough for two reasons:
1. They think they already know what it takes to succeed. Therefore, they don’t think it’s necessary to learn from others, or they do it only half-heartedly. That’s dangerous; it could take years of unfruitful efforts before they realize their mistake.
2. Learning from others takes time. For example, you might need to invest hours into reading a book (more on this later). But that’s time worth investing. It can save you from a lot of wasted time later on.

Learning from others should become a priority of yours. But don’t make learning an excuse for not taking action. What you should do instead is learn just enough, start taking action, and then keep learning on the go.

Now that we have seen its importance, here are three ways to learn from others:
1. Read.
Reading allows you to learn from a lot of great people that you otherwise wouldn’t have the chance to. You have limited personal access to them, but you have virtually unlimited access to their experiences through books.
If you think you are too busy to read, notice what General James Mattis once said to a fellow military officer:
The problem with being too busy to read is that you learn by experience (or by your men’s experience), i.e. the hard way. By reading, you learn through others’ experiences, generally a better way to do business, especially in our line of work where the consequences of incompetence are so final for young men.
We have been fighting on this planet for 5000 years and we should take advantage of their experience. “Winging it” and filling body bags as we sort out what works reminds us of the moral dictates and the cost of incompetence in our profession.
You might not be in the military, but I believe the same principle applies: being too busy to read is a shortcut to learning things yourself the hard way.

2. Listen to podcasts.
Just like reading books, listening to podcasts allows you to consume information. The nice thing about it is that you can do it while doing other activities. For instance, you can listen to a podcast while working out or doing chores. That way you can learn without taking extra time. It’s a good way to maximize the value of your time.

3. Find mentors.
Finding good mentors isn’t easy, but being able to find them is gold. Unlike the previous methods, you can interact with your mentors. They can then give you specific advice for your situation. The book Mastery emphasizes the value of having a mentor.
Whatever methods you use to learn from others (it’s best to use all of them, of course), there is one thing you should remember: write down the lessons you learn. I can’t count how many times I’ve forgotten an important lesson only to find it later in my journal.

So what do you think? What other ingredients do you think are necessary to succeed in life?
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