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The most important skill

As a kid, did you score very well in school without putting in much of an effort? Did you turn up to the football field one day to play for fun and get picked to play for your school team? Was there something else that you were naturally good at? How is that working out for you now? Are you doing extremely well at what you were once naturally good at? Have you been able to take it to the next level? And the next?

There have been things that I was naturally good at as a kid, like numbers, and writing. I didn't have to put in much effort in school to be recognised for those things. And there were others too, who were good at similar and other things at the time. And they didn't have to put in much effort to be recognised for those things either. And then, there were a bunch of kids that weren't naturally good at these things, but put in their effort and that showed in the results they achieved, be it in making it among the toppers or the football team or the theatre group or the music band.

But somewhere along the line, those of us who were naturally good at things began to falter. We were surpassed by those putting in the effort. And this was the time when I started questioning what it meant to be good at something, and started reading about things like 'hard work and desire is more important than talent'. And began to believe that and started questioning my own desire and rationalising that it wasn't really worth it if one had to put in a lot of effort to achieve it.

And then I started putting in the effort and brought up my motivation levels for the things I was after. And I did it for years. With absolutely no change in the results I was seeing. This was the time when I could either junk the idea of hard work and desire being most important as pieces of motivational BS that people propagate or I could concede that despite all my effort and desire, this was all I could achieve and I didn't have it in me to take it to the next level.

Naturally, I did both. One after the other. And then both together. That didn't lead me anywhere new either. That just turned out to be different ways of rationalising the status quo to myself.

And then it hit me. A new way of looking at the situation. So far, it had been the equivalent of Newtonian physics and this idea was the Einstein's theory of relativity. I had missed out on picking up the most important skill of all. The skill to learn.

Nobody is naturally good at anything. We are just better or worse than the people we are being compared with, or against the standards that are being used to judge (like scores on a school test). Those of us who end up doing well on these metrics early on and with little effort, fail to pick up the vital skill of learning to learn. And when things begin to get complex and need more rigour and discipline to understand and master, we won't have it in us to do what it takes.

Once upon a time, it used to be a thing of pride for me to do well on these metrics with as little effort as possible. It still is. But only now, I'm also working on picking up the most important skill of learning to learn as well.

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