Things I learned in the past are now wrong. Times have changed.
Beliefs that were true are now false. They were based on old limitations that are now gone.
Ways that used to work don’t work anymore. The old road collapsed. There’s a tunnel through the mountain now. When the old map is wrong, we can’t just draw a new line on it — we need to get a new map or we’ll be following closed roads.
Sometimes it’s not the world that changed, but just a change in my situation. What got me here won’t get me there.
The solution is deliberate unlearning.
- Doubt what I know.
- Stop the habit of thinking I know it.
- Require current proof that it’s still true today.
- Otherwise let it go.
Where I had expertise before, I don’t necessarily now. People ask my advice on things I knew well years ago. It’s tempting to think I still know the answer, but instead I have to admit, “Sorry. I don’t know.”
It hurts to go from feeling like an expert to feeling like an idiot. But it’s crucial to go through that pain or I’ll never grow.
Most people only learn in their first third of life. So most learning doesn’t cover unlearning.
We want to see the world clearly and know what’s what. But once we’re past the first stage of wisdom, the next stage involves adapting to new changes.
John Cage said, “I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.”
Alvin Toffler said, “The illiterates of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”
We don’t get wise just by adding and adding. We also need to subtract.