What I Learned From "What I learned From"

World of Warcraft. Watching the NFL Draft. Burning Man. The BP Oil Spill. Being Bedridden for a week. Getting dumped. Getting lost in the New York Subway System. Making my first souffle.

These are just some of the catalysts for some of the blog posts I remember reading in the last year. Some good, some bad, but all with this common thread…each author learned some kind of valuable life or career lesson from engaging in the seemingly unrelated title activity. Said titles often in fact begin with “What I Learned From Doing X.” Or it’s popular cousin, “What Doing X Taught Me About Y”.

Not the most creative impetus for a blog post. But legitimate for the most part, I suppose. But sometimes like the ubiquitous “X is like life…” platitude, the “What I Learned From X” posts inspire me to wonder if we are standing off to the side of a bigger point.

Notice I didn’t say missing the point, because if playing dodgeball or shopping for t-shirts has honestly helped you realize something that improves your outlook on life, than more power to you. You have at least brushed up against something that to you is a truth. Good for you.

But I don’t know that you have hit it dead on if you believe that it was the activity itself that taught you whatever lesson about which you felt compelled to write. I think rather something dawned on you because of your state of mind when engaging in said activity.

Most of the “What I Learned From X” posts, relate to activities that either cause a great deal of joy for the blogger, (The World of Warcraft, Watching the NFL Draft types), or caused maybe a little bit of survivable anxiety. (Bedridden. Getting dumped.) In other words, those that have learned from their activities, whether all of a sudden or by way of a gradual education over the years, were actively engaged in something. Maybe not by their own choice, but even the pain we suffer makes us actively engaged in it, at least at first. We run from it later at our own peril, but that is another post.

And by actively engaged I don’t merely mean doing something. I know plenty of people who spend days at a time on World of Warcraft and I assure you they have never learned a thing. They are there to escape, or to conquer, or to feed an ego, or just to be lazy. No, engagement in this sense entails an exploration of nuance. An attention to detail. A voracious desire to understand the broader implications. And most importantly in all of this, a willingness to learn. That’s active engagement in something. And if you are actively engaged in this fashion with anything, you will learn something. Again, maybe the learning doesn’t happen in an instant, but by the time you write about learning something, you have been open to being taught, obviously.

So by all means continue to chronicle your lessons and enlightenment. Let chess or baking or what have you by the means by which you are engaged in existence. But always remember it is the engagement, far more than the activity, that is teaching you something.

We are here to live, folks. Go do so.

And that is what I have learned from all of the “What I have learned” posts.

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