Be a student forever - How adaptability can help you achieve success
I always tell my friends that my goal in life is to forever be a student. I absolutely loved being a student growing up — all the way through my MBA program. Being a student is more than just being in class, and taking tests and completing homework. It’s about constantly learning and challenging your ideas and preconceived notions. It’s about being open to the world around you and testing your assumptions.
The world is a moving target — metaphorically and literally. We’re on a spinning rock that is hurtling through space at ridiculous speeds that is also looping around a giant ball of heat and gas. Nothing is constant. Every moment that goes by is a moment that is changed. All the things that we as people think we know can be changed in an instant.
There’s a rich history of this happening in our world — there was a time when it was certain the world was flat. Then humans were certain the Sun revolved around Earth. Now we know neither is remotely true. There are smaller, less astronomical examples: We were certain no one could run a 4 minute mile...until someone did. Now it’s common place in sprinting — I even knew a high school kid who could accomplish the feat easily.
I believe this happens because we take comfort in stationary things— whether they’re ideas or barriers or objects. Our brains seek that kind of anchor. We break the world down into little compartments and say: "Ok these are the rules. This is how you play the game. This is how you win, lose, etc". Whenever someone comes along and says: Nope, this is in fact how you play it, then our first reaction is to reject that individual. They’re somehow cheating, or they’re not understanding it. They’re wrong, not you. It takes a lot of evidence, a lot of pain and sometimes added support behind that individual to finally understand that maybe they’re right, and we were wrong all along. Admitting to being wrong sucks— for so many reasons. Speaking personally, I always feel stupid when I am wrong about something. My ego hates it. But it (unfortunately!) happens all the time.
We should never be experts at anything. I think being an expert (to some degree) implies that there's nothing more to learn-- that we've figured it all out. Instead, I think we should be more like students, and keep looking for new information. Even if we're labeled experts, we never accept the title. We know there's always more to learn. We accept the fact that everything may change in an instant— that all of our held assumptions can be challenged, proven incorrect, etc. I think with this mindset of adaptability, we will never be left behind. In a sense, the only constant in our life is change.
When you live a life like a student— always learning, always digging deeper, always challenging the way things are done— you are likely to find success, and stay successful. Some of my biggest heroes and idols are people who live by a principal of change. On the surface, they seem to jump between random tasks and unrelated companies and yet always find success in them. Underneath though, I think it’s because whatever they do, they challenge the way things are done. They don’t accept the status quo. They push humanity forward because they refuse to stand still. That mindset gives them the success that is worth looking up to — they have a love for changing the game.
No matter what you do in life — whether you’re a freelancer, or entrepreneur, or even if you rock the cube life — you can begin to be a student of it. Look around you and see what can change. See what can be challenged— and challenge it. Maybe there’s a better way to accomplish your goals, or maybe there’s an efficiency to be gained by improving a process. Maybe the way things have been done forever shouldn’t be done anymore? Be open to change— you’d be amazed at what happens when you are!
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