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I used to know that


Over the weekend I traveled to McMinnville, TN to see the group Mandolin Orange play in a cave called Cumberland Caverns. Being a rural part of the country, I found a small farm with a guest house to stay in. It was a brief but picturesque and peaceful retreat from city life. On one of the shelves I came across a book titled, “I Used To Know That”, which intrigued me enough to pick it up and discover it filled an assortment of things you and I have likely forgotten since the schooling of our youth. Rather than guess the subject of the book correctly, my brain made the assumption it would be about growing older and realizing I'm not as smart as I once thought I was.

Since the book ended up not being about that, I decided to think on it myself. Reflect on your life ten or fifteen years ago. Where were you at that point? What might you have believed strongly then that you no longer do or would even be embarrassed to admit? As I reflect on “I used to know that”, my mind goes to all of the unlearning we must do in order to evolve as we grow in our lives and careers. Emphasis around growth is often framed in terms of skills we have acquired or knowledge we have gained but an interesting thing to consider is what we had to give up in order to make room for the new.

One thing I have worked to unlearn is stated well by Maria Popova, “When you think of anything from a [social media feed] to a news website, the most recent floats to the top always. It's always in reverse chronology. And I think that's conditioning us to believe rather falsely that the most recent is the most important. And that the older matters less or just exists less to a point where we really have come to believe that things that are not on Google or on the news never happened, never existed, or don't matter.” Over the past couple years I have found myself backing away from breaking news alerts and what is trending online and focusing more on long-form and historical content.

One other thing I’ll share is unlearning the concept of needing to climb the corporate ladder. When I was younger I think its fair to say I ultimately aspired to run the show at a place where I worked. It is not to say I no longer do but realize that I more now seek to discover what fulfills me rather than am working to climb the ladder because I think I am supposed to.

Here are two completely different people talking about changing their minds and therefore unlearning concepts

  • Venture capitalist Marc Andreessen's mantra is “Strong convictions, loosely held”

  • I once heard the poet David Whyte reflect on the youthful quality people often find later in life, “It’s this sense of imminent surprise, of imminent revelation, except the revelation and the discovery is more magnified. Fiercer, more to do with your mortality and what you’re going to pass on and leave behind you, the shape of your own absence”

All-too-often history shows us that things more often change than stay the same. What might we need to file under “I used to know that”? One question I've worked to keep in mind which could prove useful in situations like this is, “what would have to be true in order to change my mind?”

Go Forth Boldly


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