Learning with Humility

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Expectation is the enemy of humility.

I don't know if that's a quote by anyone famous, but it's something that I've put away in my mental filing cabinet for whenever I feel like I've failed at learning something. And trust me, on this trip, there have been many times when I've felt like I've failed.

That's the major problem with starting anything - when you're first learning as a child, you have some natural humility in that you don't feel like you must be perfect at everything right away. However, when you're an adult learning something (say, a hard language like Bengali), you might feel sensitive to the fact that you're not "getting it" right away. Hence today's post: some tips on how to regain some measure of humility and feel at ease with your learning process.

1. Perfect is not an option. In school, we're taught that learning must equal performance. We're shooting for a hundred percent. But that's more of a machine's job - learning for yourself will never be like that, and in the process, you must let go of any perfectionist illusions you might have along the way. These are the first expectations to jettison.

2. Breathe out. Calm yourself down before you attempt any lessons. It's hard to come at something new with anxiety tightening your chest and making you feel like you're not getting anywhere. Do a few calming breaths and remind yourself with each one that whatever little amount you work on, that is what can be done at that moment. You are doing enough.

3. Let yourself laugh. Mistakes! They're the monsters that crawl out of your closet at night, hulking over you when you sleep. I know that when I make a language error, I feel the rush of embarrassment for a really long time afterward. But you know, letting yourself relax a bit (through laughter and letting go) can make all the difference. As my family told me, they'll correct me, but it doesn't mean that I should beat myself up over not being able to do it all right all the time.

4. Remember that all your hard work is for your benefit, and by your choice. This is a biggie. Even if you are learning as a means to an ends - such as creating better communication by learning a language - you are still ultimately choosing to do it and therefore all the effort you put in is self-generated and self-rewarding. It's awesome to see how far you'll get when you congratulate yourself for having done the work!

5. Love what you do. It hurts, I know. Making all those mistakes and trying out all those different things that just don't seem to work out... but, you keep coming back. Why? Because, much like the point above, you're doing all of this work for you. And as an added benefit, you fall in love with your work. Even if the process is painful, the learning and feeling of reward carry you on.

I'm still learning myself how to learn with humility - it's a neverending process! But keeping these points in mind has really been helpful in getting me outside my comfort zone and onto the "learning edge." I encourage you to do the same!