You might be surprised to read this, but one of the first goals I ever wrote when I created my first bucket list was to “learn everything”.
It’s certainly an ambitious goal – impossible even. With all the information out in the world, learning everything would probably take several lifetimes. And that’s assuming you could even pinpoint a finish line to the process.
But even if no one could possibly accomplish it, I still believe it is an extremely useful goal.
Journey to a Goal
It’s hard for me to trace back to the exact moment when I decided to learn everything. Although I’m pretty sure it started in my early teens.
That’s when I became an avid reader. I got into nerdy books like Lord of the Rings and short stories from sci-fi writers like Ray Bradbury.
From there I expanded to more difficult writing including Edgar Allan Poe and Dante’s Inferno.
I still remember when I bought Dante’s Inferno. I randomly ran into a friend of mine outside the store as I was leaving. He asked me what I had just bought and I showed him the book.
He asked what class it was for and I told him it was actually for my own enjoyment. This perplexed him. Why would anyone read something like this unless it was for an assignment for school?
In turn, I couldn’t understand his distaste for reading. From what I understood, he didn’t read anything unless it was forced on him.
It’s a shame too. I consider Dante’s Inferno as the catalyst that started my love for learning. The theological, historical and philosophical ideas were way over my head at the time. It was the first moment I realized just how little I really knew – it was a humbling experience.
Why Learn Everything
The thing that made this book so powerful for me was that I took the time to look up many of the references within the story. Some were quite obscure.
Each piece of information led to even more information. The more I gathered, the more it became a driving force to find the next piece.
I became insatiably curious.
Since then I’ve realized the amount of information out there in the world is way too much for any one person to learn. Yet, I feel as if there are three huge benefits for trying.
1. You make connections
There is a really eye-opening documentary by James Burke called Connections. In the documentary, he makes a series of seemingly unrelated connections between various scientific discoveries and how they influenced each other.
In one episode, he connects the invention of bank credit in the Middle Ages to Neil Armstrong landing on the moon in 1969.
The link goes like this: credit helped finance larger armies. The difficulty in feeding those larger armies helped create canned food.
Later studies into why some canned food spoiled led to new discoveries in containers. The designs on those containers helped make V-2 rockets which ultimately put a man on the moon.
The invention of credit and the moon landing are separated by hundreds of years and are seemingly unconnected, but one invention set into motion the things that brought about the other.
This is what learning is like to me. Learning opens up connections in new and meaningful ways.
The world we have today has been influenced by so many different ideas, inventions, concepts, ways of thinking and thinkers. Learning helps you see how.
Almost more importantly, it helps you see connections to things coming up in the future.
2. The world (and people) makes more sense
The more you learn, the more you figure out why things are the way they are and why people act the way they do.
People especially can be complex. Their behavior often doesn’t make sense; they’re often irrational.
You can understand people a lot more if you learn about them.
Think of all the things that go into making someone’s personality. It can be influenced by socioeconomic circumstances, beliefs, psychology, sociology and a variety of other factors.
Learn about these things and you’ll understand people a lot better.
The world doesn’t seem as random or perplexing as it used to. Things that once seemed irrational make a little more sense when you understand the basic underlying reasons behind them.
And what is more, I think if I understand why people do what they do, I get just a little closer to what goes into a human being. Maybe I’ll understand myself just a little more. It’s a way of connecting with my own humanity.
3. You become a better person
When you read biographies, you introduce yourself to real-life decisions and consequences people have experienced. Those are all life lessons you can learn from and apply in your own life.
If a big part of success comes from experience, then you might as well read about other people’s experiences. It’s the quickest way I know of to learn from successes and failures.
You can learn a lot from fiction too. Reading fiction has helped me to develop empathy and my emotional IQ so I can better interact with other people.
Also, the more you know the better you become at making decisions. You’re more aware of what’s going on in the world.
You don’t generally see uninformed people making the best decisions.
It seems that the more I learn, the more I realize how much more I need to learn about. I guess that’s what makes the goal seem so impossible.
Yet I still continue to strive for it. I like to think of it in terms of that old saying, “sometimes the journey is better than the destination.” While I don’t always agree with that saying, in this case it’s the best way to look at it.
photo credit: Ben Oh