I had a great conversation recently. It was with Scott McKeon, the founder of a company called Espresso. It was one of our semi-regular catch-ups where we chat about new ideas we're thinking about, trends we're seeing and everything in between.
We got onto the topic of career progression. He commented that a lot of people he knew have had a bit of a 'zigzag' career. Going in different directions, slowly iterating and refining towards true, purposeful, fulfilling work.
I can relate to this, and it got me thinking about my personal growth so far. Here are my thoughts.
At any point in time, I usually find myself doing two things concurrently. Teaching others, and learning new things. Whatever my current knowledge state is, there is always something I can teach someone else, and there is always something I can learn.
Naturally, learning new things is a critical part of personal growth. There are two parts to this:
- Picking what to learn
- Learning it
A good place to start is picking what's an obvious gap/need for you - what will help you do a better job at work, in your relationships etc.
My favourite way to think both of these is based on The Feynman Technique. The premise is this:
- Pick a topic you're curious about, and haven't gone deep on/learnt more about yet. e.g. DJing, using an API, changing a tyre, dark matter.
- Write down everything you currently know about it. Do the research and keep adding till you feel you understand it. Then,
- Explain it to a 12-year-old. Avoid jargon, and keep it simple. You'll realise where the gaps are in your understanding when you try to explain it simply and clearly. Note them down.
- Review those gaps, fill them in, refine and repeat with other people.
Anyone can make a subject complicated but only someone who understands it can make it simple.
More on The Feynman Technique here.
It also begs the question, what does it look like once you've "learned something" - is there a clear finish line? No.
But if you can explain it, however complicated the topic is, in a simple way, that's a great start. The next step is to turn that knowledge into true understanding...
I wouldn't call myself an expert on anything. I've gone deep in a few areas and I'm passionate about many things, but I'm no expert. But that's okay. You don't have to be an expert to have something valuable to share.
When I look back at who my greatest teachers have been, they usually fall into two categories. Inspirational, and practical. At a macro and micro level.
The globally-renowned public speaking master whose books you read and talks you watch inspires and motivates you. But a local presenter who's been speaking for two years can better relate to where you're at when you're at the beginning of your journey and provide specific tips and insights.
For someone who's a 2/10 level of competence in an area, it's easier to learn from a 5/10 than it is to learn from an 8/10. That's, of course, in that practical sense; your posture on stage, your tone of voice etc. - teaching at a micro level.
But seeing Tony Robbins in action can be massively inspiring and helps keep the fire inside you to develop in that area - teaching at a macro level.
So, when I reflect on how I can be helpful to others - who I can teach at a micro level - I look to those areas that I'm only a few steps ahead of some people on. I can be very tactical in my teaching - whether it be 1:1 conversation, online content or presentations.
That's why I love presenting in schools. Because I can connect to peers as only being a few steps ahead of them in particular areas. I can relate to them deeply.
Wondering what you could teach someone? I wonder that too sometimes. The best framing of this I've seen is to ask yourself this question:
And then follow it up with this question to guide you on where to share that knowledge and experience:
As I mentioned, it might be offering to have a coffee chat with a young graduate. Or presenting at a conference. Or just sharing content online; a video on LinkedIn, or being a guest on a podcast.
So why teach from a personal growth lens? It compounds and crystallizes your learning. It helps you refine your newfound knowledge into deeper-seated wisdom and true skill.
Teaching a concept is an acid test for how well you understand it. To be able to deconstruct it and reconstruct it in someone else’s head. As Aristotle once said, "Those who know, do. Those that understand, teach."
You're also contributing to this cycle of energy and shared knowledge in a broader sense. Connecting your personal growth journey with others' - the only way this all works.
So as we near the end of the first month of this year already (!), I encourage you to consider what you can be teaching and what you can be learning, as you look to grow. I'm excited for you.
Did this resonate with you? I'd love to hear your thoughts.
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