Sometimes I’m Sad Knowing How Much I Don’t Know

apple_and_books_20150503I have unexpectedly dedicated this year to personal development. I write more now and share what I write. I read more about career development. I listen to more podcasts.

I learn almost every day about something I previously knew very little about. Learning is exciting. I find new teachers, whether they’re authors, podcast hosts, speakers, whatever. I find new topics to explore.

It’s endless, which is fun most of the time. But sometimes it makes me sad, because I simply don’t have the time to learn about all the things I want to learn about.

An example of something I’d love to learn about

Let’s take the most recent example: storytelling. I listened to Tim Ferriss interview Jon Favreau on his podcast recently. Jon Favreau talked a lot about Joseph Campbell, the father of American mythology. I’m mildly embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t heard of Joseph Campbell before the interview. Or if I had heard of him, I certainly didn’t remember.

Jon Favreau went on, in some detail, about the nature of storytelling, and how much time he himself invested in learning that craft. Joseph Campbell’s name came up repeatedly. Joseph Campbell distilled and described an age old, universal story structure. Favreau uses this structure when writing his movies.

My interest in storytelling was already piqued. Then I listened to Jeff Goins interview Donald Miller on his podcast. Donald Miller is also interested in storytelling. While Joseph Campbell’s name didn’t come up, Miller discussed his passion for helping businesses communicate about their brand through telling stories.

Another example of something I want to explore

Walt Disney. Two unrelated events pushed me in this direction. First, I received a BookBub email with a deal for a Walt Disney biography, Disney by Rees Quinn. Second, in the Jeff Goins podcast with Donald Miller, Jeff admitted he just read a biography of Disney, and really liked the part describing Walt Disney’s commitment to his amusement parks.

I have an eight and a half month old son. I know he’s going to get into Disney stuff. It’s inevitable. Disney stories are some of the best known, most highly regarded stories in our popular culture. I would love to know more about Walt Disney, both the man and how he started his company. I would love to know more about the Disney movies, how they were first told, how they were captured on film. Two separate events converged (the BookBub email and the Jeff Goins podcast), and now my interest is piqued.

Only so much time in the day

If storytelling was the only thing on my docket, in terms of stuff I want to learn more about, then great. I’d carve out some time, pick up a Joseph Campbell book, likely pick up a Donald Miller book, and dive right in. The same is true if I only wanted to learn more about Walt Disney. Not only do I want to learn about both these things, but I’m already exploring other new things as is.

I have a day job. I have a long commute to and from work. I have an eight and a half month old son. I have a wife. We’re buying a house, and we’re currently in the middle of an elongated moving process. And I have to sleep, nearly a full eight hours every night or things don’t go so smoothly for me. How am I supposed to fit everything in?

List of what I don’t know keeps growing

I appreciate the whole “unknown unknown” idea. I’m slowly moving things out of the “unknown unknown” bucket into the “known unknown” bucket. And then even more slowly, I’m moving things from “known unknown” to “known known”.

For instance, with storytelling, I appreciated there was an art to it. I just didn’t realize how thoroughly that art has been investigated, and how many followers those original investigators have. Think of Joseph Campbell as the investigator. Not only is Jon Favreau a committed follower. George Lucas is also a huge fan. The tree grows further and further, with a whole discipline built around storytelling. I didn’t realize that.

With Walt Disney, I know there are tons of details about his life and his company that I don’t know. I also know that some of the stuff I would learn about Disney would send me down even more rabbit holes. That’s how this unwinding process works. The list of what I don’t know keeps growing.

Importance of prioritization

Unfortunately, as the list of what I don’t know grows, time doesn’t grow with it. Time keeps shrinking. What a bummer.

That’s okay, though. The answer is to prioritize, to identify which knowledge gaps, when filled, will offer me the most satisfaction. That’s an art in itself, the prioritization.

Another solution is to find the best ways to learn new things. With storytelling, maybe it’s best to listen to a few more podcasts, rather than diving into a series of books. Or maybe it’s best to watch an interview or lecture on YouTube. I don’t know. But there’s clear value in finding the most efficient ways of learning or improving, ways that depend on the topic at hand.

The point is I shouldn’t be sad about all the stuff I don’t know that will take time for me to learn. Fortunately the sadness is fleeting. It quickly turns into excitement about finding the next source of information. It’s never-ending, but in a weird way, it’s refreshing. I certainly shouldn’t ever be bored.

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