My Unrealistic Expectations About Learning

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So I just finished writing a paper for this class I’m taking.  It’s a masters level course on quantum physics, science and spirituality…

And it has been freaking hard! I mean… brain numbing, what?!?!

Just about every day in the first 5 weeks my strategic plan was to drop the class. But just as I was emailing my professor, I flashed back on this silly moment.  And it stopped me in my tracks. 

Last year I went on a trip through the South with a friend of mine.  He’s a Harvard lawyer and a concert violinist.  

One evening, over dinner, he mentioned to me that he does yoga every morning, even when he’s traveling.  Impressed, I asked if I could join him.

“Sure!”  He said.  “I’m not that great, but you are welcome to!”

The next morning, I put on my yoga clothes and claimed a three foot crevice on the corner of his hotel room floor. For the next hour and a quarter, Greg led us through a full length Ashtanga class.

His focus was absolutely unwavering, his breath was solid, he knew the sequence top to bottom, but what surprised me the most was… Greg was actually pretty bad!  His flexibility was minimal, his postures relatively poor…

Now I know you are thinking, “what kind of person judges someone’s yoga practice!? Don’t you go straight to hell for that!?” But I honestly wasn’t being super judgy. I was just surprised.

The truth is, I had just never seen Greg be bad at anything.  He speaks some half dozen languages, his speeches make you want to rise to your feet and cheer, his tinkering on my piano sounds like a world class concert (and that’s not even his instrument).

I realized I had a strange expectation that anything he approached he should just be incredible at.  

After breakfast I confessed to him my weird experience that morning on his floor.

What he said was so simple.  It is forever melded in my brain.

“You know most people have totally unrealistic expectations about learning.  They want to learn a new language or get in shape, and when it doesn’t happen seemingly overnight, they are already disappointed.

Being a concert violinist at a young age, I learned HOW to learn anything.  Because you practice for hours and hours and hours… and every day you get the tiniest most infinitesimal amount better.  It happens so slowly that you can’t even notice the improvement.  But then, over months and years, you improve.

It turns out Greg had just discovered Ashtanga a few months ago.  He loved it.  So he learned the routine and did it literally every morning.  And he didn’t worry about if he was doing it right. He just did whatever bits he knew how to do today.  He figured some time he’d be in a class and a teacher would correct something and he’d just get better tiny inch by inch.

That was how he approached everything.  If there was anything he wanted to learn, he just learned it.  Slowly.  Like he had learned the violin.

I thought about all the things I said I wanted to be good at but I’d actually just never put in the time.

Real time. No judgment of self kind of time. There were a lot.

I didn’t drop my quantum physics class. Because hard or not, I actually wanted to know it.

Instead, I read the chapter again.

And again.

I called a classmate and asked her some questions.  

I bought another book. Watched a youtube video. And then I read the lectures yet again.

The real problem was not that my class was impossible. The real problem was that I had expected to understand it the first time through.  I wanted to already know what I wanted to learn.

This year has been filled with learning for me. I let go of the woman who ran our stable and learned how to take care of our horses myself. It’s not that hard. But it’s a little hard. I did have to learn.

We got a freight farm and I let a bunch of plants die. Getting the hang of the technology and basics of growing isn’t impossible, but we did have to figure it out. We aren’t great at it yet, but every harvest the plants look and taste a little better.

And this master program… well I entered it because I had questions about things, not because I already knew.  

Perhaps it’s ok that it’s hard.  

Perhaps I’m not going to know until AFTER I put in the work.

It just made me wonder…

What do you want to be good at?

Would you be willing to be terrible at it first?

To learn the language with poor grammar? To play the chords slowly?  To put on the yoga clothes and let your form be all kinds of “oops”?  

Maybe that’s how we’re actually meant to learn.

I’ll tell you one thing— I’m going on another trip with Greg. I actually left this morning and am writing from the airport. And you know what I’m certain I can count on? His yoga will have improved by leaps and bounds!

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