What will teach me the most? – 7 Takeaways for February 28, 2021

Always Be Learning
(Image: canva.com)

As with almost everything I do, 7TakeAways remains an experiment. I’m definitely getting value out of it, but I know there’s room for improvement. There are questions I ask myself like:

  • This project is for me to force better reading habits, but should the takeaways be for me or for my hypothetical audience? The former would be a random collection of personal improvements, but the latter would also exercise an important skill: looking for value to others.
  • Similarly, if this really is about my self-improvement, rather than identifying things where I stop and say “oh, that’s interesting”, would it be better to say “here’s what I did/plan to do because of this”? This week’s #7 might be an example.

Anyway, don’t be surprised if you see random changes as I move forward.

Hope your week is going well.


1. “… the students had memorized everything, but they didn’t know what anything meant.”

“Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!”: Adventures of a Curious Character – Richard P. Feynman – (ebook)

Feynman is talking about some of the students that he encountered along his path, and how they did what was required to pass exams — memorize answers — without actually learning what the material meant. Faced with scenarios outside of the memorized text they were completely stumped. I’ll certainly attest to having witnessed this when I was in school, and in other, related, situations. I know “teaching to the test” is also a controversial approach.

The test doesn’t matter. Really. Other than getting a piece of paper that says you passed the test (which, itself, may matter, I get that), the test itself has little bearing on how well you understand the material. Guess what matters in life: understanding the material, or passing the test? Spoiler: it ain’t the test.

2. “What will teach me the most?”

100 (Short) Rules for a Better Life – Ryan Holiday – (Blog)

I get that 100 pithy sayings or “rules” isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Indeed, many of these are head-shakingly trite. And yet, there are nuggets.

I came to a full stop at item 39. “When evaluating an opportunity, ask yourself: What will teach me the most?” It’s exactly how I evaluated new positions back when I was at Microsoft and is one of my criteria for deciding what kinds of work or projects to take on today.

If you believe at all in life-long learning, as I do, it’s critical to have this attitude.

3. “Building specific knowledge will feel like play to you but will look like work to others.”

How to Get Rich (without getting lucky): – Naval Ravikant – (Twitter tweetstorm)

I gotta be honest: I’d never heard of Naval Ravikant. Then, within just the last few weeks, he started showing up in all my feeds and sources from Twitter to Medium to YouTube. I can’t explain it. Turns out he’s kind of a big deal and has been for some time.

The takeaway above is part of a lengthier tweetstorm. Once again, pithy sayings or “rules” may not be your thing, but Naval’s have a little more meat on the bone and are anything but trite rehashes of common wisdom. Once again this one spoke to me because it’s how I felt when I encountered programming and technology. Everyone thinks I’m working, when in fact I’m playing.

4. “…fascists view nearly everything through the lens of race.”

What is fascism? – John Broich – (The Conversation)

As much as the term has been thrown around the last few years, I’d never had a clear understanding of either its meaning or implications. This article was very instructive.

5. “Consider the value in writing as if you need to entertain a five-year-old.”

Damn Fine Story: Mastering the Tools of a Powerful Narrative – Chuck Wendig – (ebook)

I actually laughed when I read this. It’s absolutely true, don’t get me wrong. And while a five-year-old may not be the appropriate target, there’s value in the concept. Particularly in any technical or complex sphere, there’s incredible value in being able to explain what you know in simple terms. It can make or break any form of explanatory text.

The reason I laughed is both because it’s difficult, and you’ll never please everyone. I regularly get comments that my writing is both too complex and technical, and too simple. Oh well.

6. “A pandemic isn’t a world war.”

Life Lessons From the Recent Death of My 99-Year-Old Grandma – Tim Denning – (Medium)

Denning has shared in a couple of articles about the impending death of his grandmother. In this article after her passing, he shares some of his own takeaways reflecting on her life. Several are the expected positive takeaways: her perspective on COVID-19; what’s important (hint: a letter from the Queen isn’t on her list); and the ability to listen without judgment. What struck me was what I might call a reverse takeaway: the value of forgiveness, a takeaway from finding out that she’d been unable to.

My takeaway is perspective. Specifically valuing the perspective of others. For example, his grandmother’s distinction between World War and the pandemic is an interesting one.

7. “I use markdown formatting”

How I Research and Write Up to 1,000 Words per Hour – David Majister – (Medium: The Writing Cooperative)

It’s not that I’m attempting to set some incredible pace for my writing, but these types of “how I do it” articles almost always have a nugget of value, often from unexpected directions.

Markdown is an alternative to the various clicks and machinations one might go through to format text. For example in order to bold and highlight the previous sentence I had to stop what I was doing, highlight one word, then say “italicize this”, then highlight another word, say “bold this”, and then return to my editing point to continue writing. Writing in Markdown I’d have typed “..in order to **bold** and *highlight* the previous…”. The same style of in-line markup (or, rather, markdown) can be used for the majority of common editing tasks.

I need to review it again and consider enabling it for some of my work.

What I’m Reading

In progress:

Leave a Comment