We were on day 5 of a trek in the Himalayas staying in a picturesque valley. The place had a few small rooms with beds and no running water or electricity. As we got to know the family that owned the place, we learnt that the kids needed to walk 14 kilometers through difficult mountain terrain every day to go to school and back.
To put that in perspective, 14 kilometers is what most trekking groups manage in a day of trekking. Such commutes are the norm in Himalayas and many remote places around the world where kids risk their lives every day to go to school.
I think of this from time to time as I remind myself of the difference between challenging, difficult, and hard. We are challenged by small problems often – these keep life interesting. Occasionally, we face difficulties borne out of the effect day-to-day living has on us. Life is difficult and it only ceases to be so once we accept that.
But, if you are reading this, it is likely that life is never hard. Hard is struggling for the basics, toiling in difficult conditions, and hoping to get some food to fill your stomach that day.
Our lives are regularly challenging, occasionally difficult, and never hard. And, understanding that helps keep perspective as we journey from one day to the next.
There are typically two kinds of classes in school – theory and lab. Theory classes are only useful if we find time after class to synthesize what we learn. And, assuming we do that, we should be in a good spot to put what we learnt in practice in the laboratory. That’s not to say we don’t learn stuff in the laboratory. We do. But, it is really theory that helps us make sense of our experiences in the lab.
Of course, school is designed to be heavy on theory. So, we spend a lot more time on theory than we do in laboratory. And, that, in turn, requires us to spend significant time studying. Again, theory without study is largely useless.
Our life post-school is essentially a collection of labs – broadly, a personal life lab and a professional life lab. There is one obvious challenge – there is no one scheduling time on your calendar for theory. That doesn’t mean there isn’t enough material. On the contrary, there is more material that might help than you’d imagine. But, you have to get to it. Few do that. Then, of course, getting to the material isn’t enough. We also need to synthesize it. Fewer do that.
And, yet, a much larger percentage of professionals say they love learning. Sure, they might love learning in a way a first time tennis player shows up at the court with a friend and runs around attempting to hit the ball, professing to be learning tennis. It is very far from the real thing.
Many things have changed since school. But, one thing remains constant – if you aren’t taking the time to study, the chances are high that you aren’t learning.