The Basics

It goes without saying that you need to know the essential elements of something before learning the advanced stuff. The tricky part is that this remains true even if the basics are generally wrong and you know they’re wrong – you have to learn them anyway.

For instance, my job involves me (to boil it down considerably) helping people improve their careers. The “basic” career advice that you’ve heard all your life is really, really terrible. Most people find it very frustrating and not very successful, so when they want a more advanced (and way more effective) approach, they come to me.

But almost all of the methodology I teach relies on understanding what the basic (and incorrect) approach is. My lessons lean on the frustrations you’ve already experienced as “teachable moments” to illustrate certain other topics. Every once in a while, I find someone that simply doesn’t have that background, and it’s tricky.

For instance, I once helped someone who had gone to jail before his 18th birthday (and had never held or even looked for a job before that), and wasn’t released until after his 30th. Not only did he have zero career experience, he didn’t even understand most of what people talked about when they talked about how bad some interviews were, or the frustrations of sending out countless resumes without response, etc. Heck, he didn’t know what a resume was!

Trying to teach him the correct way to do this stuff was really difficult without that foundational knowledge, even though the foundational knowledge is mostly wrong. But I actually had to find a way to teach it to him anyway, which was an interesting challenge. I’m happy to say that he landed a really great role and is once more a productive member of society, so that particular story has a happy ending.

I use my own job as an example, but I’m sure there are thousands more. People often have to “un-learn” the bad habits of basic knowledge before moving onto advanced versions, but despite that, there’s no way to skip right to the advanced stuff.

Keep that in mind the next time you’re frustrated by having to “start at square one” on some particular topic, even knowing that “square one” is mostly garbage. Learning the garbage may be essential to learning the gold.

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