You Will Bash Your Head Against the Learning Curve

Cabal Trainee art by Pete Venters, copyright Wizards of the Coast
Cabal Trainee art by Pete Venters, copyright Wizards of the Coast

…and it might not be worth it. Don’t let that stop you.

 The first stage of learning is blindly and painfully slogging your way through overwhelming confusion while you scrape together the baseline level of domain experience. It’s called the learning curve, it’s intensely painful, and it might not be worth it.

No technology will help you while you’re climbing the learning curve – you’re learning the tools as much as the domain, and in the beginning, the technology actively fights against you.

No resource can teach you while you’re going up that curve. You don’t know where to find the right people and places, and you don’t have the vocabulary to ask articulate questions.

Now, technology can fill in gaps, but no tool will fully dull the pain and sacrifice. Plunging yourself into the unknown will overwhelm you with confusion. Accepting that you’re an untalented novice will crush your ego. You will sacrifice time that makes you happy, and you will lose money that keeps you comfortable. You’ll be torn by doubt, worry that you’re wasting your time, and blindsided by your old comforts trying to reassert themselves. You’ll look like an idiot and ding your reputation. You’ll lose sleep, you’ll lose friends, you’ll lose touch.

Worst of all, when you defeat the learning curve, you get an ultimatum. You can sacrifice something from your life to make room for your new skill, something you’re already good at, have a reputation in, and makes you happy. Or, you can admit that there’s no future for you in the field, admit that you’ll never practice the skill, and acknowledge that your resources and pain were largely wasted.

But never forget why you started. That dream project, that brilliant company idea, that burning curiosity, that fear of becoming irrelevant, the conviction in your values, whatever got you to turn off Netflix and and pull your act together, will only be actualized through anxiety.

Visualize that outcome – seeing your product on shelves, reading your own headline in TechCrunch, having a deep understanding of the universe, crushing that new hire who was gunning for your promotion, showing your kids that you live consistently with your principles.

If you’re focused on your outcome, you can endure the momentary pain of learning and get a lifetime of power. If not, well, Netflix beckons.

This post was inspired by the departure of Jenny Murphy from the Google Glass team in July 2014.

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