Tag Archives: Learning

Freedom

It wasn’t easy for me to finish college. It was hard.

It was hard because I never managed to get motivated to study things I could not apply concretely and immediately, and more than half the medical curriculum is about preparing for future and unusual circumstances.

After graduation, I remember waking up in my bed, in my old room in my parents’ garage, on a beautiful September morning; I looked at the white ceiling, and thought to myself:

“I have nothing to do. For the first time since I started school, I have nothing planned, I have nothing in front of me. Only free time. “

My freedom lasted for about fifteen days, after which my mother ran out of patience and kicked me out the door, telling me to go hand out my resumé. Thanks, mom.

But what I had during those days was not real freedom. And today, even though I have the luxury of being able to work from anywhere and dictate my schedule, I don’t have any freedom either.

An empty agenda is not real freedom. It’s just another kind of prison. It is a prison formed by our anxieties, vices, distractions and assorted desires. Your chaotic, animal brain is as harsh a taskmaster as any other.

When we have nothing planned, we are a leaf dancing in the wind. We are at the mercy of the random chemical processes that arise spontaneously in our brain. Theoretically, we can do whatever we want, but we are not the architects of this “whatever we want.” Spontaneity is not the same as freedom.

What I try to do today is: I plan everything as events that are opt-out, not opt-in. I retain the option to change my mind.

Based on my goals, and on what helps me relax, I build my agenda. In my calendar I set periods for work, for exercise, for leisure, and for socializing. And I try to be specific about what I’m going to do during these blocks – what project I’m going to tackle, who I’m going out with and where I’m going, etc.

But I do not treat it as an honour-bound obligation; my schedule dictates what I’m going to do by default, but it’s not a self-imposed tyranny. I give myself the freedom of opting out.

I give myself the right to say “not today.”

Because the calendar is tyranny; the lack of it is anarchy; and both things lead to eventual mental and emotional exhaustion.

But having the structure, with the possibility of choice, of opting out – that is the healthy middle way. 

It is in this space between tyranny and anarchy that freedom is to be found.

Knowledge Isn’t the Issue

The internet gives us access to the full sum of humanity’s knowledge, on a scale never before conceived.

Ignorance is no longer an excuse; all one needs to know is how to write a query in a search engine. That’s all it takes to find a starting point for learning anything.

In 2019, the excuses are:

  1. “I am not sure if the information I got is the best possible in existence.”
  2. “I don’t know where to start, what guide, method or teacher I will pick from the near-infinite buffet of choices available.”

There are always excuses. But only one thing is certain:

Better to start badly, than to not start at all.

No Easy Mode

In the last couple of days, I had to read a book that was far beyond my reading ability. It was a book that assumed a lot previous knowledge on the subject matter. I had to stop several times to search for the meaning of unfamiliar words, and to cross reference books in the bibliography.

In our safety-net society, it would be easy to judge the book as poor, argue it was unreasonably demanding, say it isn’t didactic enough.

But it is not reasonable to require all books to be written for lay people. How can we expect to reach greater depths of knowledge if we lose so much time re-learning the surface, with every book? No: a work that means to contribute significantly to the whole, such a book must assume that the reader has already covered the basics.

I think the interview went well. Did I dominate the material? No, not in any significant way. I was able to retain some ideas, some principles, enough to be able to have an intelligent discussion about the book and the material within, but I would need a few (many!) more moons to learn how to implement it.

But the undertaking itself, the effort of these last days, it forced me to be a more focused, more rigorous reader. It forced me to make notes and build up my questions to a higher standard. It’s a “level up” that was only possible because I dared to throw myself at a book stronger than myself.

It’s your turn to dare.

Painting: “The Forge of Vulcan” by Francesco Bassano