It may sound obvious to you (hopefully), but increasingly I’m having to repeat this sentence to those enquiring about online activities, social media, email subscribers, learning courses: The acquisition of anything worthwhile is not purchasable in itself - you can’t just downloaded a skill, in the same way you can an app or a digital song. Followers, insights, clarity and membership of tribes must be earned. As much as it may be marketed to the contrary, none of these things can be purchased on PayPal.
Yet, I suppose I should not be surprised. Everywhere such promises are made:
THE NUMBERS GAME
The numbers game sucks us all in. Who doesn’t want instant and indefinite numbers of thumbs-ups? More little Instagram hearts? More Retweets? More followers? But before you succumb to the promises of marketing “experts” and social media “gurus”, pause a moment. For at its best, acquisition for the sake of acquisition fools no-one (hopefully) and may deter genuinely interested followers. Secondly, simply copying and pasting the route others have taken, may help show you HOW a new skill is acquired, but at its worse, such actions will do little else but contribute to the tidal wave of derivative nonsense that we are all slowly sinking beneath.
WHAT WORKS FOR YOU PROBABLY WON’T WORK FOR ME
Yes, I know you are an eager new entrepreneur, impatient, and driven by the promise of shiny toys. You are of the generation where new Internet Guru’s promise Online (sexual, social, political, anthropological, nautical, geopolitical, ecological, astrological and of course financial) success by merely trading-in an email. Who wouldn’t be tempted? After all, if it works for them, it can work for me.
But if history has taught us one thing, it’s that we chose not to learn from the lessons of history. We’d rather sign up to a newsletter, flick through an instantly forgotten time-line, await the next Instagram heart rather than pursue the attainment of any long-term beneficial skill. In fact, we would rather do anything in order to defer having to sit down and face a blank screen, and in silence, watch the blinking cursor taunting us: “Come on now, you know there is no shortcut here, move me to the right. You can do this”.
Languages and Tracing Paper
For 22 years I’ve been living in Spain. Outsiders always say - hey you must be fluent by now! Well, no, thats not the case. Language proficiency doesn’t come about by osmosis or geographical location. It comes about by persistent hard work. You learn the verb-tenses, the moods and you learn the vocabulary. You listen, you read, you engage. There are no short-cuts. If we truly want to develop language skills, we need to go through those difficult , tricky moments, stumbling and getting back up again when we fall. That’s how we learn.
An artist once told me that he learnt to draw comic book heroes with tracing paper. He said that he thought he was learning, but all he really learned was how to hold the paper down with one hand, and follow a series of lines with the other.
Using tracing paper is a practice that produces a generation of artists that can paint by numbers, that can produce by imitation, but are at loss as to what to do with a blank canvas.
TURN DOWN THE VOLUME
So try this: put down the tracing paper, the Google translate-app on your mobile phone or the painting by numbers kit and instead try picking up a pencil. Look out the window and do nothing. Maybe tap the pencil in rhythm to a random thought. Watch the dog snore. Just listen to the patter of rain on the window. Stop trying to do anything specific, stop trying to be anything and stop trying to achieve anything. Just listen for a moment until you hear the sound of your own breath. If you give yourself a little time and space, when the digital flotsam and jetsam have drifted past, you may just hear your own voice and not that of your guru.
FEAR NOT THE PRESENCE OF NOTHING
Then, when your voice gradually becomes louder and clearer you can begin. There will be no signpost however, no map, no easy steps to a zillion followers or instant cup-a-soup wisdom, despite the advert. But there will be an absence of noise. And today, that is an increasingly rare thing. It’s a challenge for sure, but challenges are empowering, and these challenges might just nudge you along, your as-yet, unmapped, but personal path.
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