The Urgency of Doing: Knowing is NOT Enough

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.

Designed for Doing- Conventional vs Experiential -

Experiential Learning

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.

Experiential Self-Reliance

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.

A.) Planning

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.”

B) Failing

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.

C.) Beginning

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,


P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook… and over at our Doing the Stuff Network.

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Copyright © by Survival Sherpa: In light of the recent theft of all my content by a pirate site, my sharing policy has changed. I do not permit the re-posting of entire articles from my site without express written consent by me. My content on this site may be shared in digital form (200 words or less) for non-commercial use with a link back (without no-follow attribute) to the original article crediting the author. All photos, drawings, and articles are copyrighted by and the property of Survival Sherpa. You are more than welcome to share our photos and articles on social media for educational purposes as long as you link back to the original article/photo with credit to the author.


Categories: 180 Mind Set Training, Doing the Stuff, Self-reliance | Tags: , , , | 15 Comments

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15 thoughts on “The Urgency of Doing: Knowing is NOT Enough

  1. Pingback: The Urgency of Doing: Knowing is NOT Enough – Rolf Lindenbergh Live

  2. Over the years, I’ve been impressed with just how different the reality of large-scale vegetable gardening and raising chickens and ducks differs from what I read on-line and in books. You would think that after 6,000 years of history, we would be able to distill the knowledge of something that basic down into a simple formula, but it doesn’t work that way.

    It is VERY local. What works for me isn’t going to work for someone living just a few hours drive from here. Chicken coops designed to protect from the cold northern winters can be deadly in the summer down here in The South. Those “Survival Garden in a Can” things seldom contain what grows well in a specific location. Make your mistakes now while the consequences are trivial.

    A good library is incredibly important in making sure that accumulated knowledge doesn’t disappear (I’ve got two walls filled with books), but putting it into practice now is what has to happen. There will not be time for a learning curve when that knowledge is needed.


  3. C

    Book learning is a wonderful experience, especially if you learn vicariously. You can learn the writer’s lifetime work in a well written and designed book. Also, if you have a truly gifted memory — or mind castle you can rely on — book learning is fantastic.

    But for people that don’t learn vicariously or don’t have a good memory, mind-muscle mapping is a useful strategy. That means doing actions, some times over and over again. The body remembers even if the mind forgets. I use this strategy often.

    Another strategy I have used is self-study. I have been an autodidactic learner most of my adult life. Since I home school my children I’m trying to teach them this method of life-long learning. The miracle of autodidactic for young people is that as the tutor, I become aware of the student’s individual learning desires. I’m not in the driver’s seat, they are. I assist them in whatever they are interested in, at the moment. I really get to know my children’s fascinations, which could lead into their life’s work. Autodidactic learning is a very different path then the state-run school systems with their curricula imposed on all students.


    • You children are fortunate to have you facilitate their learning journey, Caroline! Following their interests are their best hope for future learning.


  4. American Bushcrafter

    Todd, as always, your insight into this area is keen. I’m training myself, 3 sons, and 3 daughters to become more self-reliant. We can read a lot of books, we can watch a lot of videos, but it isn’t until we get out the tools and materials and begin to do the stuff that we’ve read and seen that real learning begins. In the religious world, we call this doctrine and practice. You can’t show that you truly know (and adhere to) the doctrine until you put it into action through practice. Thanks again for your continued work and example.


  5. Pingback: The Urgency of Doing: Knowing is NOT Enough | Survival Sherpa – Wolfdancer's Den

  6. Goatlover

    YES! It’s in the DOING that we become self reliant. I’m often asked “How did you learn all of this stuff???” It’s only partly from reading–which is also a passion of mine. But the experience factor of delivering baby goats far surpasses looking at photos in a book or reading someone’s blog about it. I love the doing…

    There are others in my area who are actively DOING this self reliance thing. Fascinating people who grow food, keep bees, pasture-raise beef and poultry, etc…..those are the folks I learn from, not the talkers or the readers…


  7. Fantastic article. You’re an inspiration, Todd.


  8. Harry

    Todd great article. It definitely makes one think and take stock. My daughter is a first grade school teacher and I plan on showing her this as it applies not only out in the woods but in life.


  9. Pingback: The Urgency of Doing: Knowing is NOT Enough

  10. Pingback: The Urgency of Doing: Knowing is NOT Enough - Survival Patch

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