How to learn everything

Some people ask how I can do many things โ€” code, make music, make visual art, live stream, blog, podcast, indie hack.

I don’t think it’s because I’m ultra talented or special. I do believe talent is real, that people can have natural aptitudes, and that I might have some โ€” maybe for music or code โ€” but definitely not for all of these areas.

I think it’s simply because after a lifetime of trying things, I’ve realized that the process of learning is basically the same for everything.

And the most important part is to have confidence that you can actually do the thing. Not counting yourself out from Day 1 is half the battle. (I see this all the time โ€” “Oh wow, I would love to learn to paint… too bad I’m not artistic.”)

Much of what makes crafts seem difficult is the unknown of what happens behind the scenes. Before you learn to produce music, or make visual art, or code, you look at the artifacts produced by those artists and your jaw drops. You have no sense of what the creative process looks like, so it’s natural for it to seem intimidating and beyond your ability.

But then you get a chance to observe the artist, and you see that they’re simply using a bunch of Ableton Live presets, or Photoshop layer effects, or a bunch of code libraries that someone else built. And you see that it’s not so hard, after all. (Usually thanks to the efforts of skilled tool-builders, behind the scenes. Giants whose shoulders you stand on.)

This is not to say that one can realistically become expert-level skilled at everything. For example, I’ve spend hundreds of hours skateboarding, and although I love the sport & art form, that is one thing I simply do not have natural ability for. That’s fine.

It’s just to say that once you start doing different things, you stop being scared at the prospect of learning something new. You learn the ways you learn things, and also have the confidence that you can do it. Your learning muscle grows stronger every time, accelerating future learning.

You also stop being scared of being a beginner and looking bad. Because once you’ve exited the beginner stage of anything once, you now know that being a beginner is actually a noble state, and nothing to be ashamed of. Everyone was a beginner once. The only people that make fun of beginners, are those perpetually on the sidelines, that have never dared to step into the arena.

In short, over time, learning gets easier because you develop familiarity with the activity of learning. The phases of learning become like old friends that you visit and catch up with after not meeting for some time. But most importantly you build significant confidence in yourself. And that’s what matters most.

Any thoughts?