A key distinction
We live in the midst of an information revolution that has dramatically changed the way we receive and process information. Twitter, Instagram, News outlets, and yes, even blogs such as this, have made enormous amounts of information readily accessible at our fingertips. But there is a world of difference between consuming information and actually learning.
While consuming information can certainly produce knowledge, this is typically accomplished in a hap-hazard, unintentional, and potentially subversive way. By contrast, responsible, godly learning is an intentional discipline by which one gains knowledge and wisdom about the world around them.
A recent return to the classroom for law school has led me to think long and hard about what makes a good learner (call it survival instinct!). While there is no one perfect or surefire method, I hope these reflections encourage you on your journey towards a greater understanding of all that God has given us to explore.
But first, why bother?
The older we get the more uninclined we may be for that uncomfortable feeling of learning something new, or growing in something we have a cursory knowledge about. But to stop learning is to limit ourselves from the full depth of God’s character, the truth in His Word, and the beauty of this carefully crafted, complex world.
Learning increases our potential for impact. As Christian leaders in the workplace, we live in a world “as sheep in the midst of wolves” and for this reason, Jesus calls us to “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Matthew 10:16. The goal of learning is wisdom. And this learning is only accomplished through humility, curiosity, and discipline.
1. Learning calls for humility
The book of Proverbs reverberates with the truth that wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord. While there are many truths encapsulated in that statement, it includes an acknowledgment that God is all-knowing and we are not. Thus, learning requires a willingness to fail; to admit that we do not have all the answers.
2. Learning demands curiosity
As I’m sure many of us are aware, we are born with an eager (and often incessant) “why?” ready and primed on our toddler tongues. But it is easy to lose that curiosity—that drive to know more. My personal experience is that if I really don’t want to know how something works, it is impossible for my brain to remember it. For this reason, when I am trying to learn something for which I do not have an innate curiosity (most recently for me this was Property Law… not my cup of tea), I start by drumming up the most powerful “why” behind it. If I understand the “why”, somehow my brain is more ready and willing to let it stick.
3. Learning requires discipline
Learning is a muscle that must be developed. Like any habit or activity, it requires discipline to build structures and routines into our lives to facilitate and cultivate our minds.
Make a plan. When I enter a new season of life, set a new goal, or hit the restart button, I sit down to think critically and specifically about how I will budget my time. Time is our most valuable asset; yet often the most wasted. The first step to redeeming our time is to recognize where we spend it and recalibrate accordingly.
Start small. Like any discipline, the hardest part can be bringing ourselves to start. Unrealistic expectations, lack of confidence, or unarticulated hurdles can contribute to the difficulty of that first step. Breathe. Trust the Lord. And take the first step.
Find balance between learning priorities. How I allocate my time changes for different learning objectives. For example, I currently have three buckets for learning: (1) spiritual growth, (2) “exploratory” learning, and (3) deep mastery of subjects for law school.
My morning commute is dedicated to spiritual growth and meditation through sermons, podcasts, scripture (all on audio, of course), and music. This helps me start my day on the right foot and regularly in the Word. While this isn’t the picturesque Bible, journal, coffee in hand on my couch each morning- this is what works for me in this season; and frankly, those consistent, uninterrupted 35-45 minutes in the car have proven to be some of the most fruitful moments in my devotional life.
On my way home from school, I use the time in the car to explore my interests and reinforce content and materials I learn throughout the day. I listen to audio lectures on legal topics, various podcasts, and daily news reports. While this might not be for everyone, it’s how I decompress. I love that every time I enter my car I learn something new.
Deep, mastery learning, on the other hand, requires a more focused and undistracted learning environment. While perhaps a more intimidating form of learning, it is also very rewarding. Learning with the purpose of mastering a topic is ideally suited for a familiar environment with minimal distractions for an extended period of time. This can be challenging both for the multi-tasking mother working from home and the business executive facing the tyranny of the urgent and an ever-buzzing inbox. Yes, it’s a lot to ask for, but this type of learning cannot be bought or fabricated. But it can, little by little, produce incredible results.
Pay it forward. Finally, to truly master something, test yourself by writing it down and/or teaching someone else! If you can’t do either then perhaps you haven’t mastered it after all. But when you can, there is nothing more fulfilling than paying it forward by sharing what you had the privilege to learn for yourself.
Learning loves an honest dialogue—even better if we don’t share the same opinion! Often I learn the most from honest, open, and respectful conversations with those whom I disagree with the most. Putting ourselves out there can be scary. Perhaps even more frightening is the thought that we might be wrong about something. But we should never shy away from the truth. I would rather be humbly corrected than blissfully wrong. If the goal is not to win an argument but discover the truth, then we have nothing to fear.
Ironically, as I write this I am a week into my first job in the legal profession. Already I am far too keenly aware of the uncomfortable feeling that what I know about this profession is a drop in the bucket and every step forward feels like a futile attempt to run in quicksand. So I remind myself: take a breath, make a plan, and step forward in faith.