I recently had a conversation with someone where (I guess) they were impressed with some trinket of wisdom I’d picked up in my travels. And they asked me a question that I feel like I get pretty regularly: “where did you learn this?”
Usually, this question comes up not because I’m especially smart or knowledgeable, but because the stuff I do know is so esoteric and (seemingly) unconnected. Did you ever see Slumdog Millionaire? If not – it’s a movie about a kid who wins a really, really hard trivia game show. He’s not educated or anything, but for each question he gets right, the movie cuts to a flashback of the highly unusual series of coincidences that led to him knowing that particular piece of trivia.
It’s like that. Most stuff that I’ve made myself useful by knowing didn’t come from some sort of formal transfer of knowledge in an organized setting. It’s just a bunch of weird tricks that I learned, largely through trial and error.
But I’m not even especially unique in that regard. My theory is this: every day, everyone learns about a thousand things. Then, we forget somewhere between 995 and 1005. Gross learning is extremely high, and net learning is pretty flat. I maintain that I have about the same gross learning rate as anyone, but my default retention rate is slightly worse. As a result, I compensated – by writing.
Even as a pre-teen, I wrote down everything. When computers didn’t even have Windows yet, I had a text file on my computer called “RocciasRulesForLife.txt” where I took pretty much any event that occurred in my day and turned it into a general-case rule. It had some real gems in there. Some were genuinely smart, like “Always take gum if someone offers it to you.” Others were just weird, like “When life gives you lemmings, stay away from cliffs.” But the point was that I always wrote them down.
Over the years I filled notebooks with stories, I typed endlessly, and now I even have this blog. That one thing, that proclivity to convert my life’s experiences into stories, notes, and rules – that’s where I learned “this,” whatever this is. I learned it the same place you did, but when you learned it, it was fifteen years ago on a day when you learned a thousand other things and you didn’t remember it. We all experience the same number of seconds per day, for the most part. I just put a lot more of mine into words.