Growing up, I never considered myself to be exactly what you’d call a “star student”. Around me, I was constantly given an example of who I should strive to be. Have the best grades, excel in sports, perhaps play an instrument or two, become an honor roll student enrolled in AP courses, the list goes on. Unfortunately for me, I never really shined in many of these categories. I wouldn’t consider myself a bad student per say, but I never came across a standardized test that made me feel like I was a genius. In fact, according to most of the tests I took for the better part of my youth, I certainly wasn’t any sort of hotshot, and my future didn’t look as bright as that of my peers.
What if I told you that just like me, countless other students across the globe are given a false sense of worth and measurement because of the way they are tested? I’m not suggesting that the tests found in most schools have no value, but instead that intelligence is something that cannot simply be assigned a number, or a place on a bell-curve. As one of my great role models, Sir Ken Robinson, famously talks about; our culture constantly asks the question, “how intelligent are you?” He argues that the correct question to ask instead is, “how are you intelligent?” I strongly believe that we are each greatly intelligent in our own unique ways. To further sell this point, Peter Theil says in his book Zero to One, "We teach every young person the same subjects in mostly the same ways, irrespective of individual talents and preferences. Students who don’t learn best by sitting still at a desk are made to feel somehow inferior, while children who excel on conventional measures like tests and assignments end up defining their identities in terms of this weirdly contrived academic parallel reality."
Although I am not currently enrolled in any “official courses,” I now love to learn more than ever. Much of this came by a simple choice in my life. Instead of being assigned what I learn, and where this teaching comes from, I have decided to choose my own textbooks. Before moving forward, I’d like to quickly explain what I mean by “textbooks”. I use this term to refer to any source that learning comes from. By giving myself the freedom to choose my textbooks, I have incorporated reading into my daily schedule. By doing so, I have actually surprised myself on my ability to take in information. This aptitude was hardly tapped into previously because most of my reading consisted of subjects that I didn’t have an interest in, or I didn’t see as practical information that I could apply to the way I lived my life.
I get the feeling that a large part of our culture (and youth in particular), aren’t growing in the areas of their passion because they aren’t encouraged to learn from those they want to be like. Something profound that I’ve discovered is that a large percentage of the most influential individuals around today or in the past have either written books, or had books written about them. In other words, you can find the greatest lessons learned by these people compiled in one place. Most of the greatest teachers throughout history can live on your bookshelf.
For example, look at Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, who amassed a net worth of $65 billion. How many people know on his deathbed he wrote a book where he tells how he went on to build the world’s most lucrative retail store? How many MBA students are spending $5 on a book to learn the secrets of one of the most influential men of all time?
It is so critical to constantly be learning from the success and, just as importantly, the failures of others. How many mistakes could we avoid and how many lessons could we learn if we became intentional about learning from those who came before us? History tends to repeat itself. Charlie Munger, the billionaire who helped Warren Buffett build Berkshire Hathaway once said, “I constantly see people rise in life who are not the smartest -- sometimes not even the most diligent. But they are learning machines; they go to bed every night a little wiser than when they got up. And, boy, does that habit help, particularly when you have a long run ahead of you.”
Although I have not yet met all my personal role models and inspirations, I have been able to learn so much valuable information from them on a daily basis. This learning hasn’t been fully restrained to books. I would encourage others to also look into resources like interviews, and even TED Talks. I’ve become convinced that so many of the traps we fall into, both business and personal life, can be avoided by avidly learning from those who have already been where we are now.
I want to end on some food for thought. What are you being most influenced by? Are these things helping you get closer to your end goal? If not, it’s time to reevaluate where your learning stems from.
Moral of the story: Choose your textbooks wisely. Learning can be desired, not only a chore.
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