How To Quickly Learn Anything
Dick Cheney was the 46th Vice President of the United States, and was Vice President to George W. Bush. To be sure, Cheney’s character is suspect. Many consider him to be responsible for the United States war against Iraq.
Regardless of how you feel about Cheney, it is fascinating to consider how quickly he rose to the top of the U.S. politics.
After graduating from high school, Cheney began college at Yale University but shortly thereafter dropped-out due to poor grades. After a second attempt at college, he dropped out again.
Eventually, he went back to school, but at the University of Wyoming where he received a B.A. in political science in 1965 and an M.A. in political science in 1966.
By all accounts, Cheney was a fairly average person who found himself in extremely rare situations. It was his ability to 1) put himself in these situations and then 2) rise to the demands of these situations that transformed him into one of the most powerful people in the world.
Here are a few of the lucky incidents that got Cheney into the unique situations that led to his fast-tracked career:
- While a student, Cheney entered and won a national writing contest for student political scientists. In response, he was offered a position as an aide to Wisconsin governor Warren Knowles.
- While pursuing his Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin, Cheney took a fellowship to work in Washington, D.C. for Congressman Bill Steiger, a Wisconsin Republican.
- While serving as Steiger’s aide, Cheney wrote a memo about how Congressman Donald Rumsfeld should handle the legalities in becoming the director of the Office of Economic Opportunity. Steiger showed the memo to Rumsfeld who promptly hired Cheney. The relationship between Cheney and Rumsfeld would go on to dramatically influence every subsequent Republican administration into the 2000’s. This relationship radically changed and accelerated the trajectory of Cheney’s career.
As a result of being Rumsfeld’s right hand, Cheney became the youngest White House chief of staff in history, at age 34, during Gerald Ford’s presidency.
The power of situation
Two written documents put Cheney in a rare and unique position. Of course, lots of other effort was involved too. But these two documents, 1) his college writing contest victory, and 2) the written memo, opened doors Cheney didn’t even know existed.
Once Cheney walked through those doors, he found himself in a unique and demanding situation. In his new situation, he was required to learn and do things way beyond his current capability. Luckily for him, he also had a powerful mentor who helped him along the way, Rumsfeld.
Would other people have responded to the same situation as Cheney did? It’s impossible to say. However, it’s pretty easy to say that if Cheney had not been put in those situations, he probably wouldn’t have become the person he became. Indeed, we evolve based on adapting to our environments. Demanding environments will create a different person than less demanding ones.
On being a foster parent
I was recently having a conversation with my uncle, who is 40 years old. A few years ago, he got married to a woman with a young daughter. Parenting has been a new adventure for my uncle. It’s been challenging, but he loves it.
During our conversation, he told me he was blown away that I was parenting three kids while going to school and doing everything else I’m doing. He said, “It’s crazy everything you’re doing, and you’re only 28 years old.”
I replied, “Age has nothing to do with it. It’s about what the situation requires. And truth be told, I’m still living beneath what my situation demands of me to be.”
There is never a moment you pre-qualify to do hard things. You’re never ready the moment you start. Which is why you start before you’re ready. You become qualified as you act, not as you wait and wonder.
Rising to difficult situations
“Good timber does not grow with ease: The stronger wind, the stronger trees; The further sky, the greater length; The more the storm, the more the strength. By sun and cold, by rain and snow, In trees and men good timbers grow.” — Poem by Douglas Malloch
Trees that live in hostile environments adapt by shooting forth deep roots and developing strong bark. Conversely, trees that live in easy environments can be blown over with little force.
Similarly, your age and inherent abilities are far less significant than the situations you find yourself in. You will rise or fall to the expectations and demands of your circumstances.
In easy situations, you’ll develop a tolerance for laziness. In demanding situations, you’ll develop a tolerance for hard work. As you develop tolerances to your environments and adapt to them, overtime you’ll subtly and imperceptibly evolve into a different person.
Unlike animals who adapt to whatever environment they’ve been placed, you have the power to consciously shape your environments. Thus, unlike animals who randomly evolve, you have the power to consciously evolve.
You get to choose who you will become. You are the designer of your destiny.
Don’t pursue happiness
“One of the enemies of happiness is adaptation,” says Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University who has studied the relationship between money and happiness for over two decades.
“We buy things to make us happy, and we succeed. But only for a while. New things are exciting to us at first, but then we adapt to them,” Gilovich further states.
You may think that being a millionaire will make you happy, but it won’t. Eventually, like everything else, it will quickly become your norm. There is a ceiling effect on the amount of happiness you can experience. Even if something temporarily excites you, you’ll quickly revert to your individual homeostasis.
This is why Buddhists strive to eliminate all desires. It is believed in the Buddhist faith that human suffering is the result of wanting. Happiness comes from detaching yourself from all desires and living in pure contentment. This philosophy is the foundation for modern minimalism.
Thus, the goal should never be a destination. But rather, the organic and unending process of continual growth and change. Our goals should always be means, and not ends.
Fundamental attributes needed to consciously evolve
If you want to become amazing at putting yourself in rare and challenging situations, as well as quickly adapting to those situations, you will need two attributes:
Self-efficacy (i.e., confidence)
Self-efficacy is a well-researched concept reflecting your personal belief in your own capability. Your self-efficacy — more than any natural ability — determines how well you can learn new things.
If you don’t believe you can succeed, you won’t. If you believe in yourself, you’ll be able to learn what each situation requires.
Tolerance for ambiguity
Tolerance for ambiguity reflects your comfort level in new and novel situations. Most people are extremely uncomfortable with change and the unknown. However, if you have a high tolerance for ambiguity, you thrive in new situations.
You quickly and mindfully acquaint yourself with your context, and deconstruct the foundational elements. As a result of your high self-efficacy, you challenge yourself to quickly master and learn the unknowns in your new situation.
With enough exposure, you can develop tolerances to just about anything. You can absolutely develop a tolerance for being in new situations. It can become second nature to you, even automatic.
You can’t escape the fact that you are continuously evolving as a person over time. Having a conscious awakening is the moment you realize you have complete control over the course of your life. Once you realize this, you get to decide how you will evolve.
The process of personal and conscious evolution is absolutely amazing. It’s living with intention. It’s beyond mere happiness.
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