Growth comes from pushing boundaries. From operating at our edges. From internalizing the lessons from our triumphs and our mistakes. From using that information to change our behavior and our perspectives and our thinking. But how do you know that you’ve internalized the right things?
How do you know that you’ve learned your lesson?
How do you know you have not just identified one possible lesson? Or a convenient narrative? Or the easiest person to blame? How do you know that when you conduct your post-mortem and identify next steps, that you will move forward in the right direction?
Simple: Test it. Test your lesson.
It’s simple. But not easy. And honestly, we shouldn’t expect it to be. Learning takes work. Opportunities to learn come to us when we are least emotionally-ready to accept them. That’s why we must prepare to learn (from failure). And the lessons that we must learn often are not the easiest stories to pull out of our experience.
They often are not the convenient little ditties our minds make up for us when things go wrong (or right!).
They often aren’t comforting. Or even complete when we perform our post-failure (or post-success!) analysis.
So, before we internalize a new truth about our experience, we must validate that it actually is the truth. Before we can learn our lesson, we must make sure it is our lesson to learn.
By testing it.
By showing a willingness to fail even here - even in our ability to identify the root cause of our experience. By taking a beat before committing a thought to memory or encoding an idea on our hearts. By considering the “lesson” we’ve identified as merely a first draft. A hypothesis. By designing an experiment. And then validating (or invalidating) its worthiness. And by continuing the process until we’ve identified our actual lesson.
Cory is learning about options trading. He is teaching himself with the help of Tasty Trade to make money through investments, actively. And his process consists of reading, watching videos, following Tasty Trade trades, and experimenting with trading, himself.
At the end of every week, Cory does a self-assessment. He looks back at what worked and what didn’t. It’s pretty easy to tell whether a trade made money, so the strategies that work self-identify. When it comes to the strategies that lost money, it takes a little more digging. He knows what didn’t work. But not immediately what would have worked. After some more research he decides what he should have done differently. And he writes it down.
But that is not where the story ends.
The next week, when the Market opens, he’s ready. He has a new strategy to test, based on his lessons from the previous weeks. He continues with the types of trades that worked, to be sure he understands how they actually work. And he tests out new trades to see if he understands his lesson. To see if he learned what he was meant to learn from his experience the previous week. If the new strategies also fail, then he knows he still has some learning to do.
If they succeed, we celebrate.
The lesson, any lesson, doesn’t actually become useful until you apply it, in the right context. It’s not helpful to remember the new shortcut you found for your commute to work while you’re out for a jog. It is helpful to remember it when you are sitting in traffic, late to a meeting, about to pass by the turn onto that route. So eventually you will come around to testing your lesson - you just might not be happy with the result.
The trick is to test your “lesson” hypothesis and make sure that it was the right thing to learn before you need to apply it. The trick is to run that route on a traffic-y day when you aren't already late to see if that first time was a fluke.
When you have a particularly poor meeting with a new colleague, you can “learn” that he’s an asshole. Or you can test that hypothesis and potentially find out that he was having an incredibly bad day.
When you pour your soul into a project and it still doesn’t meet your customer’s expectations, you can “learn” that you need to make a costly reinvestment to fix what was missing (and still maybe miss the mark). Or you can develop a way to test your hypothesis and ensure that you move forward in a direction that will meet their needs.
When was the last time you failed (or succeeded!)? What was the lesson you took away from that experience? What have you internalized about that event? Did you test it? If not, there’s still time!
It’s never too late to be sure you’ve learned your lesson.
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Mastery by Robert Greene
Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson