Learning 0.0

My learning started without any purpose, as far as I recall. I just kept memorizing what appeared in the textbooks and on the blackboard. I registered the answer in my brain. Then the question. Then the combination of the question and the answer. Teachers and parents told me what to take in and when to take it, and I obeyed. Let’s call it Learning 1.0: Rote memorization.

Then Learning 2.0 emerged: reaching an objective. I gradually realized that learning had goals, such as entering into a better school, standing out among my classmates, or making my parents happy. To learn was to accomplish. Whatever piece of information I crammed into my head, it was always chained to a goal. Otherwise, I wasn’t learning; I was indulging in my hobbies.

I surfed on the waves of Learning 2.0 through the majority of my life. If I could or did not receive a tangible result out of my learning, I decided it was a waste of time, and shifted my attention to something that looked more rewarding. I thought I was climbing an upward spiral, getting closer to my goals one step at a time.

Then came Learning 3.0: Self hatred. After all these years of yearning for my goals—a better company, higher financial status, more language skills, more certifications that should lead to more opportunities—I started to feel like an actor who had been rehearsing throughout his entire life, never revealing himself in front of a real audience. Haven’t I already harvested enough “fruits”? Why am I still trying to make them bigger? Why can’t I enjoy eating them? I buried myself in the learning process so deeply I lost track of what I wanted to do with all the knowledge and skills. I must confess: Indulging in learning was sweet. When I finally mustered my courage and looked up, I did not see the goal any more.

I started to look for clues to re-discover who I am, and what and where my goals are. So I started doing yoga, practicing Buddhism, exercising Tai-qi, reading self-discovery books, taking workshops…the unique but common story of a man facing a turning point in his life. This is what I finally understood about my “goals”:

They were all given.

Almost everything I have learned, I started on because someone told, suggested to, or implied to me that it was important: my parents, my teachers, my classmates, my colleagues, mass media, my supervisor, my partner… I followed their orders and listened to their suggestions, trying to think what they would think. Even after I had grown up physically, I remained trapped inside the 5-year-old mentality where everything the child does is about getting approval.

Is there a way out? Or, is there anything left inside me that did not originate externally?

It is here, right in my face: Writing. Or to be precise, sharing a fresh perspective on tired issues with a pinch of humor. Nobody told me to do it, said it was a cool idea, or suggested it would make tons of money. I just did it. The reason my writing did not fall into the category of “learning,” even though I had learned more about myself and my world through writing than any other medium, was because I labeled it as my hobby, a category which every “selfish” activity of mine went into.

Okay, so this is what follows next: Learning 0.0—Unlearn. Or, learn to listen to my internal voice and follow it. It’s such a cliché, isn’t it? It is a unique yet common experience we all encounter when we hit a tipping point in our lives: the moment we realize that continuing on the old path leads to nowhere.