I don’t know about you, but when I’m excited about learning something, I tend to attack it nearly full force until I burn out. I’ll buy stacks of books on a subject and read them at a pretty rapid pace. When I’m done, I find that I may know this new factoid or that new factoid. Great for parties or looking like you actually know something, sure, but I can’t honestly say that my knowledge of the matter has been life changing. And why else would I want to know so much about something if not to change or enrich a part of my life? All I know is that my knowledge certainly isn’t where I’d expect it to be at after reading ten books on the matter.
Usually a short time after, I realize that while I may have read those books, I didn’t really learn from those books. I didn’t read a chapter, take notes, take a day or two to think about those notes, and then write even more notes. I didn’t have a conversation with the author. I didn’t argue with him and ask him hard questions. And then after the first read through, I didn’t go back a month later and reread that book with the new perspective I’d gained after reading someone else’s book.
Essentially, I didn’t take the proper amount of time to soak in the knowledge that the author spent countless hours meticulously crafting.
It’s a lot like being sick and going to the doctor. You can make an appointment, show up, go through the motions — say “ahhh”, lie down, breath slowly, get your blood pressure taken, engage in some uncomfortable banter — and then leave without a diagnosis. You can definitely say you were sick and you went to the doctor. But what good did it do you?
I love this quote from one of my favorite philosophers/writers, Mortimer J. Adler:
There are two ways in which one can own a book. The first is the property right you establish by paying for it, just as you pay for clothes and furniture. But this act of purchase is only the prelude to possession. Full ownership comes only when you have made it a part of yourself, and the best way to make yourself a part of it is by writing in it. An illustration may make the point clear. You buy a beefsteak and transfer it from the butcher’s icebox to your own. But you do not own the beefsteak in the most important sense until you consume it and get it into your bloodstream. I am arguing that books, too, must be absorbed in your bloodstream to do you any good.
That’s just a small excerpt from a larger excerpt you can find here.
Moving too quickly is probably the natural behavior of anyone wanting to do something great. Whether that’s learning how to write a novel that transports people to the world you’ve formed or understanding how to compose a song that tugs at the heartstrings of its listeners. It takes a real effort and desire to focus on truly learning something.
And patience. Lots of patience.
If you manage to succeed in this, you’ll be that much better off than your old self. The old self who has a library overflowing with books that have been read front to back but from which nothing has truly been gained.