Learning is an attitude


I love to teach. Actually, scratch that. I love to watch people learn. I grew up with two of the best learners on the planet, my mom and dad. I saw my mom learn to make jewelry, to sew dresses, to buy and sell jewelry. I saw my dad learn to act, to play jazz guitar, to fast rope from a helicopter. Honestly, I think they are addicted to learning. They are always 112 pages deep into 7 different books. They are as curious about cooking with curry as they are how septic tanks are made. They might be studying how and why King David of the Bible was called, “a man after God’s own heart” or they might be researching Native American jewelers. They love to learn. And they are good at it. They learn more than most in half the time. How you ask? Attitude.

Let’s say my mom wanted to learn how to make homemade linguini. She would probably ask her girlfriends if they know how or if they know any chefs that know how. She would contact every male and female in her contact list who might know a good way to make linguini. Then she would probably take that knowledge and compare it against her old Betty Crocker book. Then she would just try to make some. If it failed she would throw it in the trash, go out to eat and start over asking those same people better questions. She would repeat this process until she was making linguini like a grandma from Italy. But lets go back to the beginning.

Remember that part where I said she would ask her girlfriends? Right at that moment you would find that success of her whole journey was mostly dictated by the way she approached the first conversation. See she would be willing to table everything she has learn about cooking for the last 60 years so that her mind would be open to the new info. She wouldn’t forget that info though. She would then draw on her existing knowledge to better understand the new information. If her friend Cheryl said that you need to walk on the dough to make it the right way, she wouldn’t say, “you are nuts.” She would say, “Where did you learn that?” “How long do you walk on it?” “Do you wash and flour your feet first?” “What is it supposed to feel like?” “How will I know when it is ready and I should stop?” She approaches learning like all true experts I know, with humility, an open mind and a veracious curiosity to understand.

My mom is no dummy. She has a Master’s in Education specialized in teaching kids who have been severely abused or are severely disabled. She has taught theology to thousands of women in the last 15 years. She can handle tough problems. The thing is, she never tires of learning. She can’t get enough. She would joke that she is getting too old and that learning takes longer and that she makes more mistakes. So. She will still tackle the next problem as though she can find the solution and with an open mind that the solution may not be obvious on first blush.

I have noticed time and time again that novices look at an expert in action and they attribute that expert’s success to only the part they understand. They see a pro athlete in action and think, “If I had their shoes I’d be a little closer.” Or hear the late Stevie Ray Vaughn do a solo and say, “If my guitar had the same pick ups as his guitar I would sound like him.” This is a novice way of learning. They are wanting the quick fix. The short path to the best result. Experts on the other hand know that the path is long and ask about the fundamentals.

My father grew up with a kid who became a pro golfer on the PGA circuit in the 80s. During his off time he made a living by giving lessons. He said he always knows an expert mindset from a novice mindset by their first question.

Novice mindset: “Are such and such brand clubs going to help me hit longer drives?” Expert mindset: “Will you take a look at my stance and see if I am off?”

Neither student is an expert at golf but one is an expert learner. The expert learner approaches the whole situation with humility and asks about the fundamentals. The novice thinks it has something to do with the stupid clubs. I have a little secret for you, I bet Tiger Woods could beat most people in golf with a kiddie putter from your local putt-putt. It isn’t the clubs.

So ask yourself, “When I am learning something new is my mind open?” “Do I rule out what the expert is telling me before I have tried their method?”

Nothing frustrates an expert who is taking the time to teach more than a know-it-all student.

Check your attitude at the door and open your mind. You just might learn something.