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What do you want to learn in life?

“some time” doesn’t exist — if you want to learn or do something, you need to plan for it now.

Dominik Nitsch
4 min read
What do you want to learn in life?
This could be us, still not having learned how to surf. Photo by Vlad Sargu on Unsplash
(almost) accurate depiction of a typical Saturday. Photo by Jonas Allert on Unsplash

“What do you want to learn in life?”

Enjoying the buzz from the second bottle of Rosé on a grey Saturday afternoon in Berlin, the question found me rather unprepared.

That’s a good fucking question.”

Sitting at our kitchen table, a few friends and I started discussing all the things that we still wanted to pick up. And came to the conclusion that if we really want to learn these things, we better get started now.

Let’s write this out. What do we want to learn before we die?”

What a refreshing exercise after living “on repeat” for weeks with no end in sight (at least in Germany).

This is what I came up with:

This is a first rough draft, but one thing became crystal clear instantly: when am I going to do this, if not now?

Look. Unless something extraordinary happens, we’ll be working full-time on something for the foreseeable future. And eventually, kids will became part of the everyday life, our parents aren’t getting any younger, and the responsibilities will increase with every year.

At the same time, learning a language or doing an EMT training isn’t something that you can do over a one-week vacation. It’s a continuous process.

We live our lives thinking “I’ll do this some time”. The truth is, we won’t — unless we actively plan for it. “Some time” doesn’t exist, it’s merely a construct in our heads.

At age 18, it was “after I finish university”. After university, it was “after I’ve worked for a couple years”. Now, I’m at the point on which I’ve worked a couple years. And I’m thinking “when I’ve fulfilled my duty at my current job” that I just took up. Yet, once that comes around, there is a non-zero chance that I’ll be very settled somewhere and inclined to take on another entrepreneurial opportunity.

All the sudden it becomes “after we exit with our startup”, but then — oh snap — you have kids and that becomes a huge challenge. So you take care of that, and your time horizon becomes “when the kids are out of the house.” Fast forward 20 years, the kids are out of the house, but you’re still working, so it becomes “when I retire”.

Then you retire.

And all the sudden, “learning how to surf” or “becoming a certified bartender” doesn’t nearly sound as sexy anymore. What are you gonna do, 70-year old man? Let’s be honest — when we retire, we may have the time and money to do all that, but will we have the energy? I have my doubts.

Which means: unless we plan, chances are high that we simply won’t learn the things we want to learn, do the things that we dream of doing.

The temptation to dive right in is high. But then again, the weekend is only so long and the laundry ain’t gonna do itself. So don’t get overly excited and start everything at once. Instead, plan for one thing at a time: what’s the first step you can take in order to learn something new?

Humans strongly overestimate what they can do in one year, and strongly underestimate what they can do in ten.

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t knock out everything in a year. That’s fine. These things take time. But not doing them isn’t going to get you any closer.

For example, if you move up one level of the CEFR in one language per year, and we assume that you have 50 more years to live, this means you can still become fluent in 8 languages. 8!!! That’s plenty enough to get you into the HYPIA (International Association of Hyperpolyglots), of which I’ve learned recently and definitely want to become part of.

Now I’m asking you:

What do you still want to learn in life?

Write that down, on a sheet of paper, on your computer, doesn’t matter. Just write it out. And then I want to know:

How are you going to make it happen?

Figure out an action plan. You don’t have to do everything right now, but you have to get started with one thing right now. Just one. That’s enough to build momentum.

But first, beef. Photo by Thimo van Leeuwen on Unsplash

Here’s my action plan:

  1. I’ve already gotten started on grilling the perfect steak — gotta do something with the new gas barbecue.
  2. I’ve found a club where you can Krav Maga lessons; now I just need to see how that fits in with the rest of my training schedule.
  3. Next year in the summer, I’ll plan for a 4 week vacation in Barcelona to get certified as a bartender and really learn the craft I’ve always enjoyed doing. Plus, I get to work on my Spanish.
  4. Since I need it for my job anyway, it’s a good time to start picking up some Turkish vocabulary. Doesn’t have to be a lot, just five minutes per day.

For now, that’s enough. The remainder will follow, because I’m hoping to make it a habit to plan for the things I want to learn and do.

There’s one more thing. My parents, the Germans that they are, always book their vacation one year in advance. I had always been puzzled by that. How can you live so un-spontaneously? So I asked.

“It’s easy — planning these trips in advance gives us Vorfreude (anticipation).”

That’s exactly what I’m feeling when I’m looking at this action plan. I’m just really looking forward to doing all that.

Our lives have become so boring due to COVID. Spice ’em up — by learning something new!

Credit goes out to my lovely flatmate Chiara who has been relentless in mapping out her life and learning new things. That inspired me to do the same. Surround yourself with the right people — it’s awesome.

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