Learning and Applying

August 23, 2020

I remember the first time I set foot inside a large bookstore. I was about 13 years old, and something had broken with my computer, which I needed to play games. My teacher at the time suggested I read a book on how to fix computers myself. When I entered the computer books section of Chapters, my mind was blown by the sheer number of books. Something clicked in my head and I thought: "I need to read all of these!"

From that point on, I had an insatiable appetite for learning. The only exception to this were my university years – nothing can stifle a desire to learn like post-secondary education. I always imagined that given infinite resources and the ability to spend my time any way I wanted, I would just spend it learning and reading as much as I could.

That notion is now deeply ingrained in my mind. But with age, I'm realizing how misguided it is. The bottleneck to learning is not just time to read. It is time to apply. True learning is impossible without meaningful application. We don't learn through words but through all the senses. As the saying goes, "the rudder only works when the ship is moving" and building a large ship but never leaving port is simply a wasted investment.

I've always longed for the day when I can finally do nothing but learn. It's easy for us to construct visions of an ideal future where we'll be happier than now, and boundless time to read was (and is) a huge part of my utopian vision. But these visions are like dreams that don't make sense upon a second inspection, and if we cling to them for too long or believe them too much, we'll be unhappy when they (the impossible) are not realized. And if we do manage to achieve them, we'll find that while all the conditions of our dreams are met, the envisioned happiness is not to be found, and we'll repeat the cycle with a new vision.

All of this means that the range of topics and skills that I can truly learn and apply is much more limited than what I imagined in my head. It also means that I'm already living the life that I always wanted as much as is practical. If I was retired, the dials might get slightly tweaked and I may have a few extra hours per week to learn something or apply it. But life will not be radically different.