Learning to See

I recently found my old sketchbooks from middle school and high school. Back then, I remember thinking my art was pretty good. I would get compliments on them too (and not just from my mom.)

Looking at them now, I see how raw my skills were, how little I knew. Rough sketches of keyblades, characters from my favorite shows, still life sketches, all drawn with a heavy hand. Not to belittle my younger inexperienced self. I don’t see his (my) work as terrible or cringe-worthy. It’s more nostalgic than anything.

A big part of creative work, be it art, film, music, writing… is progressing to new levels of understanding and seeing.

At each stage, we use the knowledge and experience we’ve got to work with. It’s only until we reach a new level of understanding that we glimpse the flaws in our previous work. No—not flaws. It’s more like we go from standard definition to high definition, and then from HD to 4K, and so on.

SD only looks blurry and muddy in retrospect. At the time, it was sharp to our inexperienced eyes.

When you look at your previous work and see the flaws and what you would do differently, then you are in a good place. Because you’re able to observe what you couldn’t before shows how much progress you’ve made.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #1070

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Creative Friction

One of the big reasons I’m driven to learn so many skills (besides just being curious about many things) is to remove as many barriers to creativity as I can.

What does that mean?

Think of it like the engine of a minivan versus that of a sports car. A minivan might take dozens of seconds to reach 6o mph, whereas a high-performant sports car can go 0 to 60 in 1.9 seconds.

Humans are naturally innovative. We all have ideas all the time. Usually, we’re hanging out with friends and someone will say “Dude. What if beer cans had handles? Like a beer koozie but with a handle like a mug?” — or something like that. We have ideas, but we rarely act on them. Typically, that’s because we don’t have the skill to make them (or we don’t want to put in the time and other resources to acquire those skills.)

But when you have a skill (for example, you have mad Adobe Premiere and After Effects skills) the barrier from going from idea to reality is less.

Imagine a world where you had all the skills and knowledge to create (in the ways you enjoy creating) at your disposal. You would be ready to create —0 to 60— in a moment’s notice.

This is very doable. But in order to become creatively effective, we need to start where we are.

We just have to start learning the skills and tools now and hone them every day. We might be terrible at it in the beginning, but that doesn’t matter. Lower the steaks. Keep improving.

Even just thirty minutes of writing, or designing, or editing can add up in a tremendous way over time.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #1059

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Late Night Ramblings on Learning

“He who is not everyday conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

My go-to methods for learning these days are reading books, podcasting, and daily habits. But I’d like to get out of my comfort zone and experiment with other forms of skill acquisition.

There’s nothing wrong with reading (and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon!) Read a few great books on a subject and you’ll be 80% of the way towards competency. But there’s only so much you can pick up from a book. There also needs to be hands-on learning and experimentation.

It’s so easy to fall into the trap of jumping from one book to the next without properly considering how to apply and test what you read to your own life. It’s easy because there are so many flipping books!

As for daily habits, I find it a fantastic way to add practices to your life (even if you don’t think you have a lot of time to spare) add a consistent, momentum to practice what you want to master.

But there’s only so many daily habits you can add to your day. If you have a full-time job and you sleep the healthy recommend 8 hours a night and you add in time to eat, you’ve got about roughly 6 hours left in the day. That 6 hours is powerful and can add up over time, but there’s only so many times you can slice that 6 hours down. So after maxing out your daily habits, then what?

What are some additional alternatives to learning?

How can we increase our ability and capacity to learn?

How did renaissance humans—polymaths/universal minds—from history become so exceptional in multiple skills?

These are a few of the questions I’ve been pondering.

I want to experiment. Turn over every rock and see what others find most effective and see if they work for me too. Weekend challenges. Bootcamps. Thirty-day challenges.

Effective is the word. I’m not necessary after learning more faster for speed’s sake, or quantity just to have more skills—I’m after potency.

I want to unlock the doors to wisdom. This sounds dramatic, but it’s true. What makes someone wise? How can we make better decisions in the moment? How can we live a life true to ourselves? How can we stop holding ourselves back with fear and uncertainty?

We’ll have to figure that out ourselves.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #1048

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Starting Over

“Begin – to begin is half the work, let half still remain; again begin this, and thou wilt have finished.”

Marcus Aurelius

“What’s so fascinating and frustrating and great about life is that you’re constantly starting over, all the time, and I love that.”

Billy Crystal

There was this silly board game called Don’t Break the Ice, that I vaguely remember playing as a kid. A character (Polar Bear? Penguin?) stood dangerously on a raised grid of ice cubes. I guess to simulate a frozen lake or treacherous mountain pass. Each player took turns chipping away at the ice with colorful little hammers.

If the little animal dude falls on your turn, you lose. Now that I’m thinking about it, It’s basically like if Jenga was played horizontally, not vertically.

Learning and mastering skills reminds me of Don’t Break the Ice.

When we become good, even great at something, we can easily fall into the pattern of holding onto what we’ve got like we are about to fall to our deaths. We learn, and then we stop. We don’t stay up-to-date. We don’t want to try new things. And we eventually become complacent with our skills and inevitability grow rusty and obsolete.

But getting good at multiple skills requires us to be comfortable with starting over.

A Beginners Mind is learning to enjoy starting over. It’s not only the willingness to start again, but the drive to continuously learn and relearn what you know.

Starting over isn’t a bad thing. It’s a blank slate. It’s our chance to reinvent ourselves and take in knowledge with a fresh and deeper understanding.

Whatever skills we cultivate, we should always be reapproaching the fundamentals and what we think we know. Just because we think we know something doesn’t mean we actually do.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #1033

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Learning Through Experience

Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.

Bruce Lee

Books are a powerful learning tool. A book can buy you an author’s lifetime of knowledge and experience at the price of ten-is bucks. In terms of return on investment, a good book can 10x what you put in.

That being said, books aren’t everything. They can give us a taste of experience, but reading a book about dancing, for example, versus getting off the coach and learning to dance yourself is completely different. Books can teach us the steps, but they can’t teach us to move. (That line feels dad-joke cheesy, but I’m going with it.)

For one thing, it’s easy to read a book about something, but never actually try it. By the time we’re finished with one book, we’re already on to the next without properly digesting it and testing things out for ourselves.

You never know until you experience it yourself. Second-hand knowledge is great and can get you far, but it doesn’t replace experience.

But experience alone doesn’t cut it either. We can’t experience everything. We aren’t omnipresent and-or omnipotent. Books, videos, and other media allow us to put ourselves in other people’s shoes (today and across the history of humanity) and experience a world through a different lens. Bruce Lee is no longer alive today, but there’s an ocean of insights in his writing and work I can study and be influenced by.

It’s better to combine both experience and books as tools to improve your life, business, and place in the world. Why tie your hands and only lean on one?

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #1031

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Hands-on Experience

“Be brave. Take risks. Nothing can substitute experience.”

Paulo Coelho

For the last eight weeks, My sister Hannah and I have been driving down to Atlanta to take a metalsmithing class. I’ve always enjoyed the tactile and clever nature of making things with my hands.

However, besides playing music, I’ve spent the last several years mostly creating in the digital world, so it’s been nice to learn a new skill that requires a lot of physical dexterity. I’m still a baby metalsmith, but even so, it’s been fun so far, and I’ve learned quite a lot.

Learning something new can be intimidating—until you get your hands on it. It’s the period before you begin—before you’ve experienced what it’s like—that is usually the scariest.

Professionals always make it look easy, but they were beginners once too. The path to mastery may never have an ending, but it always has a beginning.

Whenever you feel intimidated by something, it’s better to jump right in and discover things for yourself. It’s the classic FDR phrase he spoke at his first inauguration, “the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself.”

This potentially applies to all experiences, not just learning a new skill.

It’s better to be stung by laughter and people calling you are a fool than to fearfully say nothing or do nothing and think yourself a fool.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #1026

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Who’s Good at This?

“The only source of knowledge is experience.”

Albert Einstein

We are living in a golden age of information. If there’s something you want to learn, someone somewhere is sharing (or selling) how to do it.

A great place to start learning is to figure out what options you have at your fingertips.

Not all resources are at the same quality and impact. You could spend hours and hours watching YouTube videos on anything (like fly fishing 🎣) or spend days reading about entrepreneurship on a billion blogs or social accounts. But just because the content exists, doesn’t mean it’s worth your time.

There’s a countless number of people teaching things they don’t actually do or know how to do. Experimenting is great. I eat that stuff up. But it’s good to filter out anyone/content that talks big but doesn’t actually practice what they speak.

That being said, there’s an incredible amount of free knowledge out there (and an insane amount of paid content as well). This is a perfect time to really invest in your practice or the skills you want to become great at.

The more immersive, the more effective. Meaning, don’t just watch a cooking video, or a tutorial on programming in python—go out there and get some hands-on experience. Armchair knowledge is great for parties (zoom parties?), but not so much in becoming a master in something.

Who’s good at this I can look to for tips and insight? Who is knee-deep in their craft I can emulate?

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #1019

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Find Out For Yourself

“Where the spirit does not work with the hand, there is no art.”

Leonardo da Vinci

One of the best ways to learn is to teach yourself. While having a personal coach or an online course can accelerate learning, it’s hard to beat hands-on experiences.

(Not that these are mutually exclusive—stacking experience on top of mentorship is a fantastic way to learn if you have the opportunity to do so.)

One pattern I’ve noticed (in myself and in others) is how easy it is to watch someone do something, like woodworking, programming, or dancing, for example, or read a great book on a particular skill, but not actually practice the skill yourself. It’s like second-hand learning. We watch a YouTube video of someone making music or handmade pasta, but we never actually get around to doing it ourselves—even though we want too! We’re already on to the next video, next course, or next book.

Lately, I’ve been trying to avoiding doing it, but in the past, I’ve gone through many books back to back without actually testing and applying them in my own life. What’s the point of reading a business book, for example, if you aren’t going to use it or at least try parts of it out? So we can talk big and be more informed? As if.

Better to not read, then read not apply.

Finding things out for yourself is part of the joy that comes from learning new things. Without experience, you lose some of the passion and drive that comes with learning. It’s the classic phrase “Use it or lose it”. Without visceral experience, our new information isn’t all that important to our brains, and will quickly fade out of our noggin’s, replaced by newer and more exciting information.

All that being said, get dirty. Practice what you learn. Test things out yourself. Cut out some paper. Practice some scales. Make it your own.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #981

Recommended Reads:

Hell Yeah or No

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The More I Learn, The Less I Know

“You cannot open a book without learning something.”

Confucius

The more I get older, the more I read and listen and watch and experience, the more I hone my skills, the more I realize how little I know.

I say that not discouraging, but enthusiastically.

There’s always a deeper level. There’s always a few questions trailing any answer.

Curiosity begets learning begets questions begets more learning — ad infinite.

Don’t let this notion make you feel overwhelmed or behind. Behind who? It doesn’t matter. You know what you know, and with a sound mind, you’ll always be learning more—whether you’re 7 or 80 years old.

But don’t let age make your curiosity ridged and stale like an old loaf of bread forgot in the pantry. Open your mind to new ideas and experiences. Just because someone won’t make you yacht-loads of money doesn’t mean it isn’t a worthy pursuit. Be inquisitive. Get weird. Expand wide. Ask a million questions as a child would. Be annoying.

The only thing that should stop us from learning new things is death—everything else is undebatable.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #964

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A Whole Lotta Learning. Not A Whole Lotta Doing

“He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast.”

Leonardo da Vinci

Learning is a double-edged blade. It can be your greatest opportunity to knowledge and becoming the person you want to be, but it can also be your biggest hindrance. Without practice and application of what we are learning, we are essentially wasting our time. If all we do is jump from one interest to another without using them, we might as well be binging TV.

Skills, values, character, dreams, goals, ideas—none of these things amount to anything without putting them into practice.

Reading a book is the start.
Taking a course is a great way to learn.
Watching tutorials on Youtube can save you a load of time.

That’s more than most will ever do.

But that’s just the first step. Learning doesn’t replace doing. And learning doesn’t get us anywhere by itself. Sure, we can talk big, but one look at our work and any professional will be able to see that we don’t have anything tangible to back up our words.

We need both learning and application to succeed. Now we have to put our knowledge to the test.

The tricky thing is we keep staying in learning mode because we think our skills are good enough. We want to be a professional, so we keep learning but never practice or show the world what we have to offer. This is a lie.

The best thing about practice is its learning in motion. When you practice something, you are both learning and doing at the same time. You might not be as good as you want to be (…yet). But every time you pick up the guitar, or pen or paintbrush, you are getting in your reps.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #893

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