Knowledge, education, learning—while seemingly related, these are not the same things.
For the first couple decades of our lives, education is our main activity. For better or worse, our days are spent traipsing off to school and back again, sitting in classrooms and heading home to complete the assigned, correlating work. Whether we learn is a completely personal choice. And what we learn is more individually selective still.
Upon graduation, it would appear that the education phase of our lives has ended and the execution phase of our lives commences until retirement. However as we discussed last week, curiosity is a trait that marks the successful and the knowledge of lifelong learning is a complement and a byproduct of that curiosity. The most important kind of learning happens far beyond the walls of a classroom and continues throughout life.
As you look to pursue your life’s work and set goals accordingly, ask, “Am I gaining the right kind of knowledge along the way?”
Before you can embark on any kind of journey, you must know who you are and where you are beginning. Personality tests such as the Clifton StrengthsFinder (http://www.strengthsfinder.com/home.aspx) and others can be useful tools to see yourself from the outside and understand why you do what you do. Spending your energy and spinning your wheels in an attempt to bolster your weaknesses is a waste of time. Focus on improving your strengths and utilizing what you are inherently good at to achieve maximum benefit instead.
Know Your Motivation
In knowing yourself, it’s critical to unearth your motivation. Two kinds of factors drive our action, intrinsic and extrinsic. Extrinsic motivation hinges on reward or avoidance of punishment while intrinsic motivation stems from a desire for personal satisfaction from achievement, enjoyment, or accomplishment. Simply put, if you do something intrinsically it is because you want to. If your action is driven extrinsically, it is because you have to. The action may look the same, but the end goals are completely different.
Let’s say a man went running, sprinting really, every morning, an admirable activity, right? Let’s zoom out from that picture quickly and realize that his morning sprints result from the fact that as soon as he walks out his front door a tiger begins chasing him. His running is a matter of survival, not a thoughtful action stemming from foresight or vision. He is completely extrinsically motivated.
While the man may develop muscles, endurance, and let’s be honest, nerves of steel, his action will not lead toward a desired end. The only way for the man to shift his vigorous action from “need to” to “want to” is to kill the literal tiger and then reassess what he is doing and why.
Sure, this example is unrealistic and far-fetched, but every day we avoid setting goals and pursuing productive action because we are too distracted by the tigers nipping at our heels. While extrinsic motivation can produce results, it is intrinsic motivation that produces the kind of satisfaction necessary to achieving your life’s work.
No education or knowledge acquired is ever a waste. The more you know, the more context you have to develop relationships and form meaningful connections as well as set big goals and chart a significant life course for yourself.
Studies show that successful people are not the ones who have never failed, but the ones who rebound quickly from their failures, improvising and innovating on what did not go well the first time. Knowledge is a critical ingredient for developing alternatives and being a flexible person who can change course and address adversity.
What kind of knowledge do you need to acquire to pursue your life’s work?