We can make the argument that either deep exploration or a wide-spanning of information can work for a lot of varying situations. Part of it depends on the outcome goal. Defining that might alter the route we go.
Wide spanning and surface-level focus might be valuable as we try to discover new and exciting things. We can spend a small amount of time dabbling without committing a ton of time and energy as we figure out if we like it or not. This can be valuable to exposing ourselves to new endeavors and adventures.
At some point, if we ever want to rise above the noise we have to put a tremendous focus on going deep. Deep into a niche, deep into one direction, deep into learning.
It’s very uncomfortable to put a line in the sand because we have to make a decision and the accountability now comes on us to invest time and energy on one area knowing that we’ll “miss out” on dozens of other potential routes.
We can hang at the surface and be safe but the real growth and change happen when we dive deeper and give it all that we have without worrying about the alternatives.
Over the past several years I’ve immersed myself into a deep state of learning more than I ever had before in my life. I’ve been trying to figure out, how do I get better and better each and every day? And not just “better” because that can be anything, but how do I acquire more knowledge, how do I do research on topics that are important to me, how do I push myself past that comfort zone that I lived a lot of my life in and ultimately improve at a very high rate of return.
Let me take a quick step back and kind of give some context behind it. In my teens and in my 20s there were periods where I had a really good work ethic like having a paper route when I was 11 years old and doing that for six years. I would wake up every single day between 5-6 AM, and I’m from upstate New York, so maybe a foot of snow sometimes. That taught me a lot of work ethic. And I remember even practicing golf, which was very important in my life, for hours on end in high school and college. I actually worked for the Registrar, which is the department in college that handles all classes and records and those types of things. I actually was able to schedule all of my classes when I wanted before anyone else and so I scheduled them literally the first couple classes in the morning every day so I’d be done before lunch. That allowed me to basically hit golf balls for three, four, or five hours and play golf every afternoon. I would just pound golf balls. That taught me work ethic.
The work ethic was there in periods. But I also noticed that sometimes I would have some lapses in that, whether it was in my job, maybe not go full effort, or from a fitness standpoint, I’d have ups and downs. I look back at those moments and I realized I left a lot on the table. There was a lot of stuff that I could have done differently or better or improved upon. Maybe I would be further ahead now than if I didn’t do that but I also am a “glass half full” guy and realize that it happened and I can now learn from it for the future and maybe help other people that haven’t been through that yet and give some guidance and insight into something that I stumbled with that could be important.
One of the lessons I uncovered I call the Toolbox of Knowledge. If you think about it, we acquire various knowledge through our own experiences all the time whether it’s through school, a job, relationships, etc. These situations are exactly where my metaphoric “toolbox” comes in handy.
As an example, imagine hiring someone because something’s wrong in your house. They say they can fix and promptly come over but there’s only one problem, they only arrive with one tool in hand. Now, they could certainly get that job done, potentially. But if they don’t really know what the problem is, or didn’t expect it to exactly as they found it, one tool may not be enough and therefore they can’t possibly handle the task or it might end up being extremely challenging and corners might be cut.
Now imagine that same person showing up and having one or two or three big toolboxes, all different tools, all sizes, and different materials to help out in whatever challenge they approached. I’d bet money they can get the job done.
That’s how I want everyone to think about their life. Since we can’t change the past, let’s not focus on it. What’s happened has happened. So, I really want everyone to focus on going forward. Whether it’s your day job you have, whether it’s some side hustle, it could be something with your family, it could be your fitness and nutrition.
What are you going to do to fill up that next toolbox or the next one after that?
Think about your job today. Are you maximizing every once of the opportunity to learn? If you’re in sales, for instance, do you seek out advice from the top reps in the company to learn, have you sat with other managers to gain perspective on how they run their teams or are you talking with customer success teams to learn more about the customer’s needs. These are small examples but they are the kind of things that can be done to help you gain additional knowledge and leverage that experience for your future.
The real question when you look in your “accountability mirror” is are you maximizing your opportunities to learn information that could be very useful for you many years down the road.
I take it from a fitness standpoint, right? You can certainly putter around each day; maybe you go for a walk. But maybe you don’t eat well, right? Maybe you’ve put on some weight; maybe your fitness is not there.
Are you acquiring the proper knowledge to help you get healthier and improve? Are you doing research to figure out if there is a better way that’s going to improve my longevity, my sleep, or my energy? Or are you just using the information you’ve gathered from the past and assuming it’s still correct?
That’s really what I want to challenge everyone that’s reading this to think about. What could your “toolbox” be next week, next month, or next year? Could you just fill it up a little bit more or could you fill up three toolboxes full?
When you’re carrying it into that next job, or that new gym you signed up, or maybe a new relationship you have to ask yourself what you are bringing to the table starting out and how are you going to grow to be a better person going forward. How are you going to try and taste new things and new experiences to build up that toolbox.
Try one thing next week. That’s it, one thing, and see what happens. Reach out to a co-worker in a different department that works with your department from time to time. Ask them questions to learn about their day-to-day and be curious to know what things they know that could be valuable for your role, and vice versa. If you feel you’ve gained weight, go search online for an hour about healthy foods and ways to structure your eating such as Intermittent Fasting. There are so many simple ways to gain more knowledge and learn from new experiences.
The hard part is to slip out of the warm comfortable bath and into an uncomfortable cold shower. However, I’ve learned if you do it in small doses you start to form the proper habits and harden your mind to do these things more often.
I want everyone to have that mindset. It’s a glass half full mindset, you’ve got to be positive in order to have the courage to shed the insecurities and seek out unknown places and conversations because those are the situations that make you a better human being both inside and out and allow you to carry that toolbox around and tackle any job in your path.
If you’d like to hear the full audio version of this article on my Just Get Started Podcast click here to go to Apple Podcasts-> The Toolbox of Knowledge One Mic Session or you can listen on any major Podcasting platform. This episode originally aired on September 12th, 2019.
I’ve had a ton of interesting experiences in my life, and some, where I made wrong choices and had to do things over or I made them harder than they probably needed to be. I hardly looked at the choices I was making, how I was reacting to them, and where I could improve. Unlike Sherlock Holmes, I wish I had laid the pieces out and tried to fit them together to unlock the mystery.
Then I hit what I have affectionately called my “Renaissance Period” in my early 30s.
It has been a journey of deep learning and discovery filled with eye-opening lessons and revelations that have helped alter my path and set me on a more meaningful course for my life.
As I reflected and thought of the impression I wanted to make on the world, I was reminded of my grandmother, Nana Ro, as I called her. She was my everything and she taught me so many very subtle lessons that I didn’t realize until much later. She had been through a lot. She had witnessed pain. When she was in her mid-20’s and with two toddlers at home, the love of her life and father to her boys got killed in a car accident. She didn’t find out until a day later.
She had several miscarriages later in life, worked 3rd shift to make ends meet, and raised five children along the way. She deserved to take a break every once in a while. She deserved to get waited on like a Queen. But she never once complained about it. She was the epitome of servant-leadership.
For the years I knew her it was extremely rare for her to do anything first or for herself, especially when her grandkids were around.
She cooked dinner, we ate first.
We wanted to watch a TV show, she turned the channel.
She cooked Christmas cookies, we always ate them first (and found her hidden spot in the downstairs freezer and raided that as well)
I wish I realized this all in my younger years. It wasn’t until this Renaissance Period and deep reflection that I realized (very luckily) that some of this rubbed off on me and a whole bunch more of it needed to be refined. It took some work to iron out the learnings and apply them to my life. But here’s what I came up with. Simply put like Nana Ro would have done.
Feed others first that otherwise can’t feed themselves.
Translation – Many people, to no fault of their own, have a narrow view of the world, business, new technology, etc. and you have the opportunity to be the guide of information for them to open up a new way of thinking. You can help people help themselves by feeding their minds with creative ways of solving a problem or simply suggesting to them to ask the correct question to themselves to gain a new lens on the same situation. You need to do it with honesty and humility, however, as this is the way for people to start buying into those ideas but you have to let people be the hero of their own story and you are just the guide to get them to their destination.
Don’t be so polished and lighten the room up
Let the ego go! Nobody wants or needs the hard-ass and it doesn’t go over well anymore. I’m not saying to not be professional especially in business environments but try to be “business casual” in your encounters with most people. They’re human just like you and do you think they are as happy as they seem or don’t have 15 other things on their mind or even want to be at this particular job? So lighten up the room, have fun, be personable. It not only differentiates you from almost everyone else but you get more out of people that way. Being yourself builds trust and respect much quicker than putting on “a show”. Trust me, people can see right through the charade. Just stop it!
Bring a smile to everyone you encounter
Smile more often. Take the glass-half-full approach to life. There are a lot of bad times and challenging situations but you have a choice to make each and every day. You decide on the attitude you’re taking into your family life, your business, your workouts, and everything else that matters to you. Even though things may not be perfect, be the strong one that others can use for inspiration. I know it can be hard but looking at life through the positive lens ends up making it much easier and manageable. You somehow can breathe a bit more freely. The storm clouds seem to pass and the days just appear brighter. Trust me, it works, because I’ve tried it both ways.
Although I narrowed down to three bite-sized chunks, I learned so much from Nana Ro that I can’t put in one article. Some stuff I am still uncovering periodically as I reminisce about my childhood and the time I was lucky to spend with her.
I miss my Nana Ro very much. She passed away in the Spring of 2019 and I think about her often. I think about her kindness and the love she projected out into the world and hope she’d be proud of my mission and the impact I am trying to make on the world.
It’s 2020 and the Dozen Months of Discovery have begun!
Part of the premise of the Just Get Started Podcast is to get out of your comfort zone and try to accomplish things far greater than you ever imagined. Whether it is changing your eating habits, a better fitness routine, starting a business, etc. At the micro-level, everything you do has to be “started” at some point but are we truly pushing ourselves outside our comfort zones as much as possible and learning new skills or knowledge that can become valuable. Or, maybe it doesn’t become something valuable but you can say you tried it because it was interesting at the time. That’s okay, too.
That, my friends, is the whole premise of the Dozen Months of Discovery.
12 months to have 12 new challenges or adventures. This could be anything from committing to a workout plan one month to learning how to play the piano another, learning a language, or detoxing from Social Media. Whatever it is you have to invest time into it and you have to practice but more than that you must create a different mindset and the focus on accomplishing the challenge must be present every day. We (and I certainly mean me) say over and over “I wish I could do….” Or “I wish I tried….”. As the old saying goes, “You can wish in one hand and shit in the other and see which one gets filled up first”.
Stop wishing. Why not go out and do it? I know your answer. I don’t have time. It may actually take less than you think. Malcolm Gladwell famously wrote that you need about 10,000 hours to master a skill. But I’m not asking you to master a skill, I’m asking you to try and learn something new whether it be a new skill or just challenge yourself to stick to something for an extended period of time. So, how long would that take to try?
Well, someone already did that research for me and his name is Josh Kaufman. Now, Josh did a phenomenal Ted talk about this topic and, in short, concluded that to learn and be good at a new skill it would take about 20 hours. I highly recommend you watch the entire Ted Talk here –How to Learn Anything in 20 Hours – as it provides a lot more context.
Also, Podcast Guest (Episode 76) Scott Young and his book “Ultralearning” is a fantastic guidebook of some useful techniques and stories to speed up your learning and actually make it sticky.
So, the question I posed to myself a little while back and will pose to you right now is…How far did you advance yourself this past year? How much more could you have done that would have led to increased skill development, more fulfillment or joy in your life, new doors being open…all of it….How far did you push that needle?
Get out of your comfort zone and try to make the next year your best year even. You certainly won’t get there by doing the same thing you are doing now. You must broaden your horizons and I think this is one way to do it.
So here’s the challenge.
Pick 12 new skills/challenges/topics you think would be cool or interesting or maybe something you always wanted to learn. If you can’t think of that many then ask your friends and family or post online and ask your larger community to throw out ideas.
Next, write them down and share with the world those 12 you are going to learn.
Here is my working list for 2020 (I may slip in something if I come across it during the year and swap out with one already on the list but that is still to be determined)
January – No Social Media for 30 Days
February – 1 Hour of Stretching / Mobility work every day
March – Learn Spanish
April – Learn the Ukelele
May – No Sugar (Less than 20g a day)
June – Conduct an Interview a Day
July – Plastic Free Month (Don’t use single-use plastics)
August – Learn Adobe Illustrator
September – Run a Mile a Day (With 20 LB Weight Vest)
October – Charity Month (Donate 30 Hours of my time)
November – No Complaining
December – Random Acts of Kindness Per Day
Finally, each month you need to pick a goal (if it is a learned skill) so you have something to reach for by the end of that month. If you don’t pick a goal you can’t conclude if you truly learned anything. Don’t make it too easy but I’d rather it be achievable than overly aggressive.
Now, start with the first one on the first day of the next month and do it. Learn by taking classes locally, watching videos online, syncing up with a friend skilled in that craft, whatever. Invest around 20 hours that month and see what you can accomplish.
I’m starting this endeavor on January 1st, 2020. My first monthly challenge is to not launch one social media app (Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin, Twitter) for the entire month. I’ll document each journey prior to starting and the week after I finish each month.
If you are down to join, let me know and we can hold each other accountable. If not, we’ll catch you for the next one and I’d love to hear what you are trying to do to challenge yourself and push beyond your comfort zone.
Let’s crush 2020!
Dozen Months of Discovery in 2020Brian Ondrako2021-03-19T10:41:55-04:00
I love engaging and meeting new people. Please reach out on these socials to connect (if that’s your jam).