Recently, our eldest daughter has been reminding us that this time next year, she will be able to obtain her learner’s driving licence. She will then be able to place those much coveted “L” plates at the front and rear of our car so that all drivers on the road can be warned that she is a learner driver. Eventually, after moving from being a learner driver to a provisional driver (with “P” plates) and passing all of the relevant requirements, the day will arrive that every new driver longs for: the day that she will be considered a fully fledged driver, with a full license and no need to ever have any type of plates on her car again.
This, I think, is how our society views learning in general. If someone is new to a topic and is seen to not “have” knowledge, then they are considered to be a learner. Once they have obtained the relevant knowledge, in my opinion there seems to be an expectation that they will no longer be a learner; they don’t need to learn if they have knowledge.
If we think back to driving, the rules can change without us realising. And, if we are not seeking to learn more about the rules, we may never even know that the rules have changed. We will simply go on through life, accepting that the driving knowledge that we have is relevant, and taking action on the road from that previous learning.
I’m looking at you, zip mergers of Canberra.
In Canberra, we have a lot of zip merging, where two lanes become one and the car in front has the right of way. It is called zip merging because, at its best, it works much like a zip (zipper). Yet, nearly every car insists on giving way to the right (or being the car on the right and behind, expecting the people in front to give way to it because it is on their right after all) rather than giving way to the person who is in front. This is because their learning from previous merging techniques was to give way to the right, regardless of who was in front. Now that the rules around merging have changed, it can be argued that their prior learning is no longer serving them.
Here’s the thing. We have knowledge about driving. By assuming that this knowledge is always valid, and by not seeking out any new knowledge or becoming learners, we become caught up in old ways driving, referring to learning that is obsolete. Then we merge in completely the wrong way when we are meant to be zip merging.
In my assessment, life is very much like the road rules. We learn certain ways of “doing” life, which come from our history, our upbringing, our stories and our experiences. We go through life, doing it that way, until one day the obsolete learning no longer works for us. My self-doubt journey was like this. I had been going through life, doing ok, with the perceptions and interpretations that I’d had for practically all of my life. One day, those perceptions and interpretations no longer worked for me. In seeking out a coach and committing to actively exploring what was going on for me, I declared myself as a learner.
However, what if we were learners all of the time? Would my self-doubt journey have ever even happened if, instead of waiting until I had assessed that my learning of myself was obsolete, I had been curious about myself all of the time? What if, in our interactions with others, we remained curious about what was happening, rather than having the interaction purely from our prior learning? For example, what if, instead of taking action from an assessment that “Person X is always difficult”, we tried to be curious about why we have decided Person X as always difficult, and then take that learning on into who we are being? How would that be?
I love being a learner and I find that, in my work interactions in particular, I am constantly asking myself what is going on for me:
- Deanne, for the sake of what did you form the opinion that Person Y was arrogant in that conversation?
- What do you think is missing from your relationship with Person Z that has them seemingly micromanaging you? Is there something that you could do differently that would help them to feel less like micromanaging?
- OK, so you are cranky with Person A? Why is that? Oh, you think that they keep information from you? So how is that assessment serving you? What behaviour from Person A would you be happy with and why? How do you think you could work with Person A to achieve outcomes? What behaviours of yours could you shift? What do you think is important to Person A? Are you considering the things that are important to them when you are talking to them? What conversations with Person A have you not had that may be useful to have? What requests could you make of Person A?
- Wow, you just felt anxious when that topic was raised in the meeting. Why? Oh, because you feel as though you haven’t managed your commitment? Well, how would it serve you to call that out now and what would it take for you to do so?
In my assessment, being a learner is not a judgement of what we know or don’t know. Rather, I think that when we declare ourselves as learners we are declaring that we are open to possibilities. We are saying that we are willing to be a learner and we are willing to allow someone or something to be our teacher. We are saying that we won’t hold our opinions and assessments as truth and that, instead, we will look to see what other possibilities may be available to us. For example, in the past, it might have served me to consider Person X as difficult; perhaps doing so took care of my need to justify why I didn’t understand what Person X was asking me to help them with. However, by being a learner, I may be able to see that my assessment of Person X as difficult is simply my assessment, and I may be able to learn something about Person X that leads to me interacting with them in a way that doesn’t have me interpreting them as “being difficult”.
I believe that one of the most amazing things about being a learner is that we can learn from anyone. At home, I can learn from my children or my husband, for example. At work, I can learn from people who report to me, people who I report to, my peers, our customers, anyone. What fascinates me about this is that traditionally, we assume that we can only learn from people who “know” more than us. However, by being a learner in life, we are learning how to take action, and we can learn how to do that by interacting with anybody.
To me, being a learner feels like such a special place; that place of admitting that we don’t know, while being fulling prepared to learn whatever is waiting to be learned. It feels incredibly powerful. It is a place that has helped me to grow from situations where, once upon a time, I may have given up. And I think that is rather awesome.
Points to Ponder…
- Where might it help you to be a learner?
- Imagine yourself as a learner. What would be happening for you in language? In your emotional spaces? In your body?
As a leadership and life coach, these points are all points that I am able to help people to explore. If you feel that it would be useful to have a conversation with me, please feel free to view my services on the Leading and Being website.