A big part of growing up is learning new things. We probably don’t learn new things every day, but it’s safe to say that it happens a lot in our lifetime. I always believed we learn the majority of stuff in our childhood, and it’s probably true. I mean, have you seen how quickly kids pick up things? There’s obviously a very active brain at work in those younger years. We have to learn literally everything about the world around us from scratch – what things are called, how to read and write, how to understand feelings and emotions, how to convey them to someone else. That’s a lot of ground to cover in a few short years.
Still, at that age, learning is effortless. And then we enter school, and we’re force-fed a lot of information, some of which we find interesting, most of which we don’t. Learning becomes difficult when it’s the latter scenario, especially when it’s not contextualised. We wade through irrelevant crap and uninteresting jargon, that too in way too much detail. The really bright kids pick stuff up quickly, while the average kids try and pretend like they understand so they don’t get left behind. University can be like this as well, especially if people don’t get to decide what they want to learn. And then we “finish” our education, and weirdly enough, learning becomes easy again, almost effortless.
Let me elaborate with a personal example. I’ve never been great at anything to do with numbers. I teetered and tottered through most of high school math, and avoided it as much as possible from then on. As an extension, I never took much interest in things like finance despite the fact that my father worked his whole life in a bank. To his credit, he did try and explain what he did once in a while, but maybe I was too young back then or too uninterested, because I could never fully grasp the big picture, and didn’t really try to understand when I lost the plot.
Today, though, for the sake of making my family finances clear, he took it upon himself to not only elaborate on the various accounts we all hold in various banks, but also explain terms like “savings bank”, “fixed deposit”, “dividend” and “shareholder”. I guess I’m at an age now where I can appreciate what these things mean (I earn a salary, I pay tax and I have savings accounts, so it’s all relevant to me), but I literally felt like a light-bulb was switched on above my head. Simple interest, compound interest, income tax… these are concepts I’ve known about since high school, but I was never able to understand them in terms that meant anything to me. I’ve always known there’s such a thing as the stock market, and I know people called shareholders exist, and I knew the word “dividends”, but I couldn’t have explained any of those to someone else until today. What made the difference was someone sitting down and explaining these things to me in a way I could understand, but more important, at a time it made sense to me.
There are some things you should learn when you’re young. But there are some things that just won’t make sense until they mean something to you, and some of those things require you to be a certain age. Learning becomes effortless when get to pick what we want to learn about, and in how much detail. We decide when to learn it and where to get our information from. Learning happens on our terms, and so it becomes effortless again, just like in childhood.
As an ex-teacher, I think I subscribe even more to the idea now that it’s meaningless to force information down kids’ throats and expect it to be nutritious for them. No amount of cramming or stuffing at an early age will change the fact that effective learning happens when the time’s right for it.
Or, to put it in terms I learnt today, invest when the time’s right, and you’ll reap good dividends.