by Todd Walker
Bewildered, you approach two doors. One reads Self-Reliance. The other reads Books About Self-Reliance. Which will you open?
500 years after the life of Leonardo da Vinci, his words resonate in my soul.
“I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply.” ~ Leonardo da Vinci
In one of his thousands of notebook entries, da Vinci wrote, “I know I am not a man of letters, experience is my one true mistress, and I will cite her in all cases. Only through experimentation can we truly know anything.”
In 1452, born a bastard son, Leonardo’s future was bleak. No formal education was offered to illegitimate children in his day. Apprenticeships to professional guilds was out of the question. He had no choice but to bootstrap his way out of a situation which he had no control over. In spite of all the obstacles, da Vinci reached genius status as a painter, engineer, botanist, scientist, anatomist, sculptor, and inventor.
How did he become the ultimate Renaissance Man?
He traded theory for action.
Designed for Doing
For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them. ~ Aristotle
There are two classes of knowledge: Experiential and Theoretical. Near the end of my undergraduate studies, I was introduced to Experiential Learning Theory. It’s worth another look when comparing book learning to hands-on self-reliance.
Book Knowledge (Conventional Training)
I’m not anti-book. I have books stacked, shelved, and archived all over the house. However, it is one thing to read about self-reliance and another to apply what you’ve read for self-reliant living. Skills only become yours by doing.
Conventional training (here’s a book, go read it – or lectures) is based on knowledge transfer which arrogantly assumes what the individual needs to learn and how the student learns best. The focus is on the needs of the educational system, i.e. – passing high-stakes tests, school rankings, etc. – and not the individual’s interest or learning style. This is the “sage on the stage” model where information is taught externally but rarely applied internally.
I saw a funny but applicable cartoon the other day about wilderness survival which went something like this…
A guy wearing his bug-out-bag is approached by a woman.
Girl: What’s inside?
Guy: Survival books.
Girl: What if you have to survive longer than 72 hours?
Guy: Right. I need a bigger bag of books!
Again, books aren’t bad – correction, some are actually bad. Book knowledge is entertaining but not very useful until it’s applied through hands-on experimentation in context to the real-world. Conventional training is about memorizing facts. Experiential learning consists of applied knowledge acquired from doing. The urgency of doing is real.
The cornerstone of learning for me is my experience. Your experience will be different from mine. Where we go astray is trying to mimic what another “successful” person has achieved. By doing what they do, dressing like them, copying their “keys to success”, to the point of hero-worship, we lose our unique self and temperament. Being a fan of someone is one thing. Becoming their mini-me will only limit what you could have become. You and I must live our own story.
Other people’s ideas, even my own ideas, will never be as authoritative as my experience.
One of my goals is to get people to think about what they think they think.
~ Scott Jones, Postcards to the Past
Here’s a few thoughts I thought I thought along my journey.
Quit it. This may come as a shock to OCD minds, but by the time you’ve got every detail planned out on how to do stuff (which I’m guilty of), you’ve just wasted a lot of valuable time. You really don’t need a 31 step plan like the experts say.
Procrastination often cross-dresses in plan’s clothes. It’s tricky like that. Just start and make adjustments as you move forward. Taking action has a way of bringing a plan together. The perfect plan does not exist. Stop wasting time on the sofa.
We tell ourselves, “I’m going to start learning a new skill. I’m just going to start tomorrow.”
Do it fast. You can’t plan for all the mistakes. Since I know I’m going to fail, I want to fail fast. The quicker I flop, the faster I can make adjustments and shorten my learning curve.
At the onset of my recent Cordwood Challenge, I had legitimate fear. Failure and bodily injury were on the top of the list. Looking at that measly pile of wood I chopped the first day, self-doubt doubled down.
Here’s the thing about beginning. It has power to overcome fear and doubt. When we start, providence moves us a step closer to what we were created to do. This may seem overly dramatic, spiritual, or too philosophical coming from a wood chopper. Maybe so, but many doors were opened for me personally and professionally since that first ax swing.
The benefits of bold beginnings are often invisible. Most people give up before reaping their rewards.
D.) Doing the Work
Self-reliance is a byproduct of the Work. Reading about it is not the Work. It’s physical, dirty, sweaty, smelly, and satisfying. It comes dressed in overalls with a hoe in its hand.
I’ve had the privilege of learning skills from very talented people. How did they reach such high skill level? To put it simply, they isolated themselves with their Work. True artisans spend thousands of hours alone hammering, chopping, baking, writing, carving, experimenting, failing, reflecting, and acting again on an idea.
Whatever Work you were born to do, start doing it.
A side note to our regular readers: I haven’t published an article for over a month. I don’t offer apologies. This has been a much-needed break which has given me time to think about what I think I think.
Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,
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