Learning is growth. The more you learn, the more inspired you become. The more ideas you culminate in your mind, and the more your view of the world expands.
Whenever I stop reading, learning, or conversing with others— I feel the roots of my tree of knowledge start to wither. I find it a bit harder to wake up in the morning, I find my morning espresso a bit more bitter, and find my self jaded and bored.
Bodybuilders call this hitting a “plateau”— where you push yourself to your limit, but you aren’t able to overcome your limit.
Learning can happen this way as well— you can hit a “plateau” where you don’t find anything interesting. Your curiosity dies a little bit— and you feel less like a child, and more like a “serious” grown-up.
Follow your curiosity
I have found that personally, I have lost a zeal for learning whenever I “forced” myself to learn. I would be sitting lazily on my couch, and I would feel guilty for not learning something new.
However all of my big breakthroughs have been when I just followed my natural curiosity— when learning becomes effortless, like water streaming out of your faucet.
When you see a child learning things for the first time— they follow their curiosity, and have a spirit of “play.” They are (still) innocent and pure— before they get indoctrinated by teachers to “sit down, shut up, and listen.”
This is why Montessori schools are so fascinating to me— I do believe that children (and adults) would learn a lot more by simply following their own curiosity and imagination (rather than just consuming boring textbooks).
Is this adding value?
The problem with learning is that there is a lot of junk out there. Too much noise, not enough signal.
Nowadays whenever I (accidentally) stumble upon a spammy blog, I feel dumber when I read “toxic” information (celebrity gossip, or ‘mis-information’).
I can honestly say that I haven’t ever learning anything truly meaningful or memorable on a blog. All of the “deep learning” I’ve gained deep insights were from books.
Books are distilled information. They take a lot more meditation and “marinating” of ideas before being printed or published. As a hack, whenever you want to learn something, Google: “Subject 101 PDF.” For example, I’ve been interested in computer science, so I googled: “Computer Science 101 PDF” and downloaded a free 600page textbook PDF, and quickly skimmed it to get some new ideas. I’ve done the same with studying Bauhaus design, “modular design”, as well as “wabi-wabi.”
Share what you learn
I feel one of the best ways to retain what you’ve learned is to write, share, or blog about what you’ve learned.
For example, the energy which drives this blog is that I want to share all of the things I learned (which I find might be useful) to you. Everything I write on this blog is advice I wish someone told me— and at the end of the day, I still see this blog as a personal blog/diary where I just share some of my personal thoughts.
I write a lot of junk on this blog, so my suggestion is to always pick-and-choose the pieces of wisdom you find interesting, and discard the rest. In-fact, I love it when you disagree with me, because it shows that you have your own personal opinion. This blog should only stimulate thoughts in your own mind— rather than tell you what is “right” and what is “wrong.”
How to keep learning
In photography, I started my “Learn From the Masters of Street Photography” series because I was curious to learn about the masters myself. Whenever I met other (more ‘serious’) photographers at exhibitions or galleries, they would always name-drop photographers (William Eggleston, Stephen Shore, etc) and I would nod my head (pretending like I knew who they were talking about). Rather than trying to read some nerdy analyses on the photographers in a textbook, I scoured the internet for interviews, I bought books on Amazon, and I tried to distill what I learned from them.
I have a personal rule: never study a photographer because someone tells you that you “should” study them. Only study photographers who pique your personal interest.
There are a lot of master photographers I haven’t written about— because while their work is important in history, their work or philosophies just don’t interest me personally.
As you well know, whenever someone forces you to learn something, you are less likely to learn. All the self-directed learning I’ve done I still remember. All the learning that has been shoved into my mouth is in one ear and out of the other.
Learn outside of photography
The field of photography is still very young compared to the other visual arts (sculpture, painting, drawing). So to only study photography is to limit yourself to the sum of human artistry and knowledge.
This is what my buddy Adam Marelli does so well— he learned traditional art in school, and applied these artistic compositional techniques to photography.
This is what the Japanese street photographers do well— they follow their intuition over their intellect, and pursue a “stream-of-consciousness” photography.
This is what a lot of American photographers do well— they are able to build successful businesses in photography because they are focused on the pragmatic ways on building a business (studying business-economics while in school, not just photography).
In terms of shooting technique, I’ve also found the best inspiration on how to shoot from Zen philosophy. The best street photography for me is when I shut off my mind, and trust the intelligence of my body. The photos shoot themselves, rather than having me “force” myself to shoot.
As with social media, the best advice I’ve gotten is from the Stoic philosophers— my buddies Seneca and Marcus Aurelius have taught me that fame is empty, shallow, and fleeting. No matter how many likes, comments, or followers you have— there will always be someone more famous than you. And regardless at the end of the day, we will all die and everyone will forget who we are. Their solution: focus on being a virtuous human being, help your fellow human-kind, and share your wisdom with others.
My confidence for writing and blogging has come from hip-hop artists, who give a giant “fuck you” to the rest of the world, and let their “haters” empower them. They bleed in their rap lyrics; I also feel that the best writing is when a writer bleeds onto the page with his words. And I guess for me as a blogger, when blood drips into my keyboard.
Prioritize your learning
I know, you’re busy. You got a shitty commute, a shitty boss, and a job you’re not crazy about.
Regardless of how busy we are, to learn is to be alive. And to be alive is to create. And to create is to find the limits of your self-expression, and to help empower others.
It is always hard to shove more things “to do” into our schedules. My suggestion: decide what to subtract or remove from your schedule.
Perhaps you spend 30 minutes making breakfast in the morning. Stop eating breakfast, and eat books instead (and maybe have a protein shake or something quick).
No more eating at the desk for lunch. Use that time to read a book, listen to a podcast, or take photos around your office.
No more Netflix after work. Use that time to study your photography books, meditate on photography, edit and post-process your photos, print your work, or do some night street photography.
No more pointless social obligations. Learn how to graciously say “I’d love to hang with you this weekend, but unfortunately my bandwidth is maxed out.” Only spend time with friends and family who truly empower you, and suck out the parasites in your life. And use that time/mental energy to do creative work.
I know it’s hard friend. Even though I have a “perfect” life (autonomy of my schedule and enough money to pay rent), I still find learning a challenge. I get distracted by social media, blogs, and still get anxiety about going broke, being forgotten, and dying on some street corner.
But when I never stop learning and being curious— I know I’m never going to die (at least creatively).
Never stop learning,