Learning Sweet Spot


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Colin Wright
Colin Wright
Aspiring Generalist is an Understandary project.

Learning Sweet Spot
There’s a moment I find typically arrives shortly after I’ve learned enough about something to have a fundamental grasp of the technical or practical aspects of it, but I haven’t yet crested the first peak of true understanding.
Maybe I’ve learned how to slice and dice and sauté and do general cooking-related things, but I haven’t yet figured out how to tastefully adjust or concoct new recipes by rebalancing flavor profiles, or perhaps I’ve learned how to do some basic coding, but haven’t yet become a developer in the sense that I could get hired to leverage my skills professionally.
This is often a frustrating moment because I’ve learned enough to have a sense of how much I don’t know: getting started, it’s common to feel brash and cocky because you don’t yet comprehend the overwhelming mass of what you’ve yet to learn. At this developmental moment, however, you’re likely to know a bit, but not tons, and one of the things you know is that you know very little compared to what you’d like to know.
This, to me, is a learning sweet spot because I’ve been humbled by this understanding of how far I’ve got left to go, but I also know enough to get started, do something things, and see progress in my abilities and knowledge.
I also—and this is perhaps a less-obvious benefit of being stuck at this stage of development—know enough to do things, but not enough to fully grasp how to do things 100% properly according to the dominant standards of the space in which I’m operating.
The magic of this is that I haven’t yet sanded down all my rough edges, because I don’t yet know how to do things “properly” according to these norms.
So at this stage, if you’re learning to write, you’ll do a lot of things “wrong,” but maybe wrong in interesting ways. You’ll someday learn to smooth out those rough edges, but for now you can leverage them, celebrate them, roll around in their inherent imperfection and muckiness, and that can lead to potentially valuable outcomes.
When I find myself at this stage of development (as I write this I’m at this stage with poetry and digital music creation), I try to make a whole lot of stuff even as I continue learning, and I keep the things I make (flawed and naive as they are) so I can come back to them later.
The making itself is valuable because it helps me hone my skills and causes me to come into contact with new obstacles, which I’m then incentivized to assess and overcome in the scrappy, often YouTube-powered way newbies learn to leap hurdles.
But it also gives me a stockpile of unsophisticated (by the standards of the practice and culture I’m learning about) work I can come back to once I’m more practiced and knowledgeable about these spaces, and these pieces can serve as less-biased-toward-common-norms starting points or sparks for possibly more me-shaped work in the future.
The work I make at this moment is less likely to be influenced by the mainstream thinking and work made by other creators in the field I’m learning about.
That means the work will likely be imperfect in myriad ways, but also potentially interesting and valuable for the future version of me who has become more influenced and “mainstreamed” as a consequence of my education and exposure to these cultural elements.
Such moments can be frustrating, then, but they’re also rich with possibility—especially if we perceive them as pivotal points in our development when we know just enough to be dangerous, and thus just enough to potentially make some seriously interesting and groundbreaking stuff—in part because we don’t yet know enough to NOT make such things.
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Colin Wright
Colin Wright @colinismyname

Learning for its own sake.

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