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"Figuring It Out" is Such a Misleading Process


This concept has popped up several times over the last few weeks. I think it's because I'm finally getting it. I knew it before, like some fact in a textbook. But now I've actually gone through it, and can understand it.

Learning is a process, not a phase. You hear it all the time. But no one who's gone through the learning process and found some form of success presents the learning process as an actual process. It's always glossed over like any other hurtle.

Success stories create the illusion that figuring it out is a simple step on the way to being recognized for your work. Like you could learn it in a weekend, and be done with it.

Right now I'm reading through a book a good friend of mine handed me. The book is Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative, by Austin Kleon. Austin's a good source of information, and has done pretty well for himself. His book is a New York Times Bestseller.

I recommend the book. I enjoy it. There's several parts in it that I've written about myself. I can relate to it, and I think it's a good summary piece for every creative to pick up. At one point he talks about figuring out how to do things well online. And really, that was the cue for this post - the phrase "figure it out."

I work in a tech startup. I live in the entrepreneurial world daily. I read all sorts of stuff that comes out of that world. A phrase on the tip of every entrepreneur's tongue is "figure it out." Example: "Yeah, we were building this thing in one direction, and then we just had to, you know, figure out how to make money from it."

I hear it in the entrepreneurial world regularly. I'm sure I've said it myself! And now I'm hearing it in creative circles, too. In all of it, the actual process and stages of "figuring it out" are completely ignored!

Sure, most people who've done well for themselves are quick to say they've made as many mistakes, if not more, as they have good choices - thus alluding to the fact that it did take them time to learn. But the blasé depiction of "figuring it out," seems incredibly misleading - even harmful - for anyone trying to get a start doing what they love.

Here's my situation, and why I think this all matters. In December of 2014, I decided I wanted to be a writer in some capacity. I started pitching and contributing to 3rd party sites (which took time to find and get into). I began writing for our little tech startup. And only now, 150,000 published words later, in February of 2016, do I think I have a plan to "figure out" this whole becoming a recognized writer thing.

It's been a 15 month process of "figuring it out," and it will be years before this "phase" is completed. Then I'll probably spend a similar amount of time "figuring out" something else.

Figuring something out is not an easy step. It's a lengthy, painful process. And I think too many people are blind to that, because it's always presented as something you just do and get on with. In reality, it's not.

I know I would have done better throughout this process had I not been under the impression it was supposed to be a lot easier than it is. This matters, because there's thousands just like me, who've given up because they were made to think they were less than, simply because no one gave them a realistic expectation.

If you're just getting started in this creative sphere, or even if you've been at it for a while now, I want you to understand this. The learning process is not a short phase of "figuring it out." It takes time to learn. Even if you've gotten comfortable with certain aspects, you're going to realize how much you still have to learn to do it masterfully.

I wish I could end this with a super encouraging one-liner about how it's easy, you've just got to be patient and keep trying. That's usually my thing, but that's not true here. However, if you go into it - whatever "it" is for you - realizing that the learning process could be years of intentionally working at it, you'll go farther and faster. You won't crumble as easily, and your expectations will actually set you up to do much better.