Why earning can be more important than learning (Part 2)

Common: Spending time, money, and energy on education without converting it to sustainable value. Note: this is the 2nd part of this series. View part 1.

Uncommon: Learning is important. Very important. I would never deny that. However, as I explained in part 1, learning can quickly and easily become a self-indulgent addiction in the information age that deters us from the action required for any level of success. As I have more subtly pointed out before:

Too often we confuse engagement with productivity.

Yes, there are a lot of smart, wealthy individuals in this world – we hear of these stories most often. But the side of the story seldom discussed is the fact that there are even more poor and struggling geniuses in this world.

We are often led to believe that knowledge creates a better life. This is not entirely so.  If knowledge were all it took, there would be many more happy, wealthy people. The reality is:

Knowledge is only as valuable as the degree to which it is applied.

Therefore, here is the distinction: The wealthiest are not necessarily the most knowledgeable or “intelligent,” but rather the most studious.  Note the difference. They study aggressively when learning, but they also demonstrate a propensity to act with the same intensity.

In other words, isolated learning (study) is only a small part of their overall success. They also recognize that a large part of life is on-the-job training.  The remainder of their time is spent testing their ideas in the form of action, experimentation, and enterprise. Bottom line?

Results don’t come through the accumulation of knowledge, but rather, the application of it.

There are certainly times when it is necessary to immerse yourself in the learning phase, but I dare to argue that there are many instances where we convince ourselves it’s “necessary” to learn more when, in actuality, it’s simply more appealing and more comfortable than taking the first action step, experimenting, and accepting risk.

Both learning and earning are equally important, but without balance, the value of each diminishes.

Learning and/or earning:

Before going any further, it’s necessary to clarify the difference between these two engagements. Learning is more self-explanatory: The pursuit of knowledge and skill. Earning, on the other hand, is more abstract. In my effort to be both general and specific, I have concluded that earning is the application of knowledge to pursue financial ends.

I did not attach this term to a measurable return on money because it not realistic to think that ALL activities under the “earn” umbrella will be directly related to a dollar amount.  Some “earning” activities are less measurable than others, but the common denominator is action clearly related to a financial reward in the short term. I emphasize “short term” because this same definition in a “long term” context I would consider “learning.”

NOTE to the devil’s advocate: If the intention of the action is to “earn,” but the financial reward fails to transpire, the action, in my book, can still be considered one of “earning.”  But let’s avoid becoming overly particular here.

Okay, moving on…

Self-deception & learning:

The danger of learning, I feel, arises from this omnipresent cultural pressure emphasizing isolated education. This is completely acceptable during the “school-student” stages of life, but this mentality of isolated learning stays with us far too long. (By isolated, I mean learning the sake of learning – something done in seclusion, absent of concurrent real world application; such as the conventional classroom archetype, for example.)

Please don’t misinterpret me… I’ve said it once and I will say it again: Education and constant learning is very important. But… after a certain point, we must start removing the “isolation” aspect of education and spend more time learning through doing.

Without the addition of action following one’s conventional education, we unwittingly remain stuck while convincing ourselves that our education alone is, in fact, thrusting us forward. Here’s the reality: Education is merely a tool; the vehicle is what we do with it. It’s a slight but significant shift from study to studious – something I don’t think our conventional education emphasizes enough.

Sure, there are always some people who find purpose and occupational opportunities by flexing only their brain muscles, but let’s be honest, this is not the case for the majority. The bulk of rewards in life are claimed by those who are actively trying, testing, and doing.

Be careful not to fall into the trap of masking familiar and convenient daily motion as “education” – an easily justifiable excuse for not starting the project/business, not scheduling the job interview, not applying for that upper level position, not making the pitch, or not taking on another form of risk. Learning is the “safe” route through life, hence it’s seductive appeal.


Earning: A prescription for distraction

In a world of constant temptation we can frequently find our priorities under siege. For example, when in the “learning” phase it can be difficult to discern a hierarchy of importance. As I mentioned in part 1, when learning becomes a yardstick for measuring progress we can experience a false sense of efficiency and value because it’s easier to make something seem more relevant or potentially useful than it actually is.

But some priorities exert more power than others.

A new-found focus on earning, for instance, can provide the candor and motivation necessary to deflect non-relevant “stuff.”  In this case, it becomes much easier to separate distractions from opportunities of value because, in most instances, the pursuit of earning is often tied with a measurable and tangible reward. In other words, keeping an eye on the bottom line usually results in higher efficiency because we can quickly gauge our efforts. Furthermore, action in the name of “earning” tends to present opportunities to learn that are most relevant to the cause.

Action: The path to earning & learning

In today’s world, the ongoing pursuit of self-education is a must, so the overlap of learning and earning is expected. This is important to acknowledge, but is no excuse for spending excessive time, energy, and money on learning when application is the solution.  And remember, learning never stops in the pursuit of earning. In fact, the relationship should be symbiotic and galvanizing.

There are a lot of smart, deserving people out there, but many of them still struggle to find work and build the life they’ve longed for because they often retreat to their usual pattern of “learn more” instead of confronting the new demands that lie before them.  Being “a student of life” only gets you so far – eventually you must become the apprentice and the teacher.

You’re smarter than you think. It’s time to claim the rewards.

Your thoughts?

What are your thoughts on this topic? Post your comments below.

Stay uncommon,

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Disclaimer: What I am NOT saying:

  • If you can’t see the immediate benefit, it’s a waste of time. You certainly cannot accurately and consistently predict how something you learn today will help you tomorrow. But, from a practical standpoint, you are still better off pursuing something you know will benefit you in the short term rather than gamble the present for an unknown future.
  • ROI is the only metric that matters: You should only pursue that which will give you your greatest return on investment.  Learning can (and should at times) be enjoyed as a leisurely pursuit. The message of this post is about finding a healthy balance between learning for fun