In college, I spent a lot of time learning things. And now that I’m finished, I’m taking some time to unlearn things.
The process of unlearning is just as valuable, if not more valuable, than the process of learning. It’s the practice of letting go of ideas that offer no value — to recognize any limiting beliefs and leave them behind.
Here are five beliefs I’m striving to unlearn:
1. There is only one way to live. I’m working to let go of those perfectly crafted “life blueprints” that I was handed as a child: high school, college, job, marriage, kids, retire, die. Exciting stuff.
Life blueprints are not drawn in ink — life blueprints are traced on an etch-a-sketch. These plans seem reliable only if you remain very still. So, one way to rapidly unlearn whatever blueprint you’ve been given: start moving.
When you travel, you’ll bring your etch-a-sketch with you — leaving home without it would make you feel uneasy. But each time you toss it into your backpack and visit a new city, you’ll notice your once vivid design has started to fade. And soon enough, you’ll be left with a completely blank slate and forced to start new. But this time, your blueprint is your own — designed by you, congruent to your own values.
Immerse yourself in foreign cultures. Drown in the sound of languages you cannot understand. Realize that “having your shit together” is completely relative depending on location. An eight-hour plane ride to another country will quickly remove the illusion that you’ve “got it together”. Nobody knows what they’re doing — we’re all just doing our best. Live in a way that works for you.
2. Certain people are cut from a different cloth. We place certain people on a pedestal solely because it makes life easier to understand. But the truth is, everyone is a human being — and if you dive deeply into the life of anyone who has achieved anything great, you’ll find the following facts: they worked their ass off, they failed often, they had help from others, and they had some luck on their side.
We take people such as Steve Jobs and turn him into an idol, a god, because it makes things simple. It’s much easier to say “Steve Jobs was an absolute genius, a visionary, some type of super-human”, than to actually examine his life and acknowledge his hard work, his failures, the help he received from brilliant partners and teams, and the lucky timing with his endeavors.
We are all Steve Jobs — we just need to unlearn the belief that we aren’t. Steve Jobs didn’t know he was Steve Jobs — he just followed his path, worked hard, and learned from failure. We can do the same with our own path, whatever it may be.
3. My gifts aren’t worthy enough to give. As children, we are encouraged to express our creativity freely — without judging ourselves and without the fear of judgment from others. But as we grow older, this freedom begins to fade away, almost as if the gifts we possess are no longer worthy of sharing.
We keep our gifts secret — imprisoned by our bedroom walls, trapped between the cover of our journals. Why? Feelings of inadequacy? Fear of appearing pretentious? Fear of rejection, or even success? These responses make sense on the surface — everyone is a critic, and nobody is creating anything. Giving your gift to the world makes you vulnerable, and it’s easy for those who have never created anything to disapprove of your art.
Your gift is worthy enough solely because you are giving it. Want to write? Write. Want to start a fashion blog? Launch it. Want to be a musician? Grab your guitar.
Give your gift. Today. Right now. However you can. Fuck this article — go give your gift. Do it for you, and share it with the world. It doesn’t matter if people like it or not. Do it so you can die complete.
4. I need to know what I “want to do with my life.” I graduated in May, and I still don’t know what I want to do with my life. I suppose I’m an aspiring writer with a business degree — paralyzed by the fear of choosing the wrong career path.
As kids, many of us are drilled with puritanical values when it comes to work ethic — if you’re not working, you’re worthless. You should be working for work’s sake. Many people would scoff at the fact that I’m currently living at my parents’ house, rather than rushing to slave away for some giant corporation. And truthfully, I scoff at myself sometimes — I feel those judgments creep in. Some things are hard to unlearn.
But I’m slowly letting those judgments go — I’m learning to accept my own journey. It’s okay that I’m living at my parents’ right now — it doesn’t mean I don’t have value. I’m becoming aware of how useful this time is, and I’m utilizing it the best that I can. I’m writing every day.
Soon enough, I will find my path — and you will too, if you haven’t already. And once these paths are revealed, it’s our responsibility to pursue them with every ounce of our being.
But for now: what do I want to do with my life? Fucking enjoy it. In two hundred years, nobody will even know I existed — lost in oblivion, nameless, returning back to wherever I was before I was born. Eventually, the sun will explode. The least I can do, out of respect for the universe, is take time to enjoy my brief experience on this awe-inspiring planet. Even if, for now, it’s at my parents’ house.
5. I am not enough. I’ve spent a lot of my life being completely self-involved — crippled by insecurities and self-judgment since I was younger. I just never felt comfortable in my own skin. Whether I was in a social situation, or standing alone in front of a mirror — I just never felt good enough. And over years and years of reinforcement, I allowed these negative thought patterns to define me. I couldn’t see these thoughts for what they were: thoughts.
Thoughts and beliefs can be unlearned — even the ones we hold about ourselves. And it wasn’t until I reached my 20s that I finally took responsibility for placing these judgments on myself. I realized that if I wasn’t having these negative thoughts, nobody on the entire planet would be having them. I was the only person having them — and the only person harmed by them. So I started the practice of unlearning them — of observing the thoughts as they arise, without being attached to them or letting them define me.
If you, at times, don’t feel like you’re enough, practice the art of unlearning. Recognize your self-judgment for what it is: an illusion that you’re inflicting on yourself. We spend so much of our lives getting in our own way — limiting ourselves with beliefs that do not serve us. But we can let these things go with time, with practice — by mastering the art of unlearning.