Learn the Right Things and Learn the Things Right

I used to help my grandfather work on old cars — he was a telecommunications engineer who supported NASA on the Apollo missions, who could quickly learn how to take apart, and put back together pretty much anything. When my father was in college, he had an old beat up VW Beetle that was having engine issues, so my grandfather got a repair book, and in a weekend figured out how to disassemble and rebuild my dad’s VW engine, so he could get back to class on Monday. One of his many great pieces of advice was:

Don’t start something you don’t know how to stop

This often came up as funny stories about my grandfather or dad learning to drive, but it’s such a powerful concept in lots of other areas. The point being: Don’t learn and practice things in the wrong order — if you learn to hit the accelerator but don’t know how to use the break pedal, you’re going to have a big problem.

In today’s era of internet everywhere, and so many great learning tools, it’s easy to learn something. The more important thing to do well is to learn the right things, and learn the things right (Don’t waste time learning something you don’t need/love; and Don’t waste time learning things in the wrong order).

  • Quickly validate if you actually enjoy something (e.g. Don’t go to dental school for years before first asking to shadow a dentist for a day or getting coffee with one to talk about what’s great and not so great about their job)
  • Learn prerequisites/dependencies (see Scott Young’s, who writes so much great stuff on learning, There are No Hard Subjects, Only Missing Prerequisites)
  • Consider asking for help or hiring someone to help you (paying for a trainer at the gym will likely dramatically increase your efficiency and effectiveness)
  • Say “No” to things to make room in your life for what’s important to you
  • Think about Pareto Principle and Tim Ferriss’ concept of minimal effective dose

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