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A Lesson I’ve learned From All The Lessons I’ve learned

As a kid in elementary school, the math problems we did in class were always easier than the ones we had for homework. In class, we’d practice our understanding of addition with problems like “what is 2 plus 2?” During homework time, however, I was forced to navigate my way through more complex problems like “what is 2,762 plus 3,937?” The principles of addition were the same at home as they were in the classroom, but the application was a bit trickier.

In adulthood, my real-life problems show up in the same way: I learn all sorts of valuable lessons like “be yourself,” “be honest with others,” “keep an open mind,” or be persistent” and it all sounds so simple and practical. But once I put my self-help books down or once I hang up the phone with my mentors, or once I finish watching inspiring YouTube videos, I have to face problems that are far more nuanced and demanding than any of the hypothetical problems that are used to illustrate the kinds of life lessons found in good advice.

Here’s the lesson I’ve learned from all the lessons I’ve learned:

Every problem has a personal dimension that can’t be understood or resolved in terms of universal principles, common-sense wisdom, and general advice. Real-life problems always place a greater demand on our creativity and critical thinking skills than the theoretical discussions we have about problems. Good advice is never a final solution. It’s only a starting point for further inquiry, further work, and further growth. Ideas don’t work. People work. Whenever ideas seem to work, it’s only because we do the work of figuring out how to apply them to our particular situation.

This Post Has 3 Comments
  1. This, I think, is an interesting and important post.

    I’ve met some good, smart people who are readers
    and yet don’t seem to internalize the words and their
    meanings. Much of the best part of their minds seem
    to stall on theory. Which they then trick themselves
    into believing they’ve put into practice. They learn how
    to “fail with dignity.”

    (Much like a previous podcast on not talking to
    others about your goal/s otherwise you trick your
    mind into thinking you’ve started working on them
    when you haven’t.)

    When I was very young I always had a hard copy
    dictionary on hand. Pouring through its pages I
    began to see the significance of words and their
    meanings; That they could be the springboard to
    action. Left on their own they’re just cyphers on
    a page.

    Words strung together in logical sequence become
    ideas. Ideas left of the drawing board of one’s mind
    gather dust. Dry yellowing blueprints that should
    have become buildings. Thoughts adrift from action.
    Theory divorced from practice.

    “Better to have no ideals than to have them and not
    pursue them.” (Nietzsche)

    I don’t completely agree with this:
    “Every problem has a personal dimension that can’t
    be understood or resolved in terms of universal principles, common-sense wisdom, and general advice.” Real-life
    problems DO place a greater demand on our creativity
    and critical thinking. In conjunction with “universal
    principles, common-sense wisdom and (some) general
    advice.” Which provides a dynamic frame-of-reference.

    E.g. Productivity (profit) is crucial to business. To keep
    my doors open. I start with this universal principle and
    common-sense wisdom and (some) advice (people, books,
    etc..) I take action. I have to bring in revenue and control
    costs. I need to show employees how to do this. If I truly
    believe that employees are more important than customers,
    I need to back that up in my day-to-day performance, Etc.,
    etc., etc. Ongoing.

    GIGO. A computer term: Garbage in, garbage out. (Or:
    Good things in, good things out.)

  2. My favorite part of this post is the last paragraph. It is funny (strange funny) that when I read this I had just tried to explain my stance on why I homeschool, to a principal of a public high school. He probably still won’t understand why, nor do I expect him to. Until you have done it, you cannot understand it. Thank you for your posts!

  3. Great advise, I agree 100%. Until we start applying all the good lessons and advise we have learned in life, we will continue to approach our problems like we did before, and make the same mistake we made.

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