Want to make your life more adventurous? It's possible and surprisingly doable, but it requires that you make an important choice—embrace the power of un-learning.
Think of your education, both formal and informal, as a pyramid. Each stone that makes up the pyramid represents your knowledge—one stone is a fact, the next is an idea, the next is a formula, and so on.
The construction of your pyramid began long before you can remember. Over time, incrementally, countless people and experiences have contributed stones to your pyramid.
Naturally, everyone’s pyramid is a little different, but we all have a pyramid.
By the time you reach adulthood, your pyramid is more or less formed, and like any good pyramid, there it stands—a monument to your achievement and knowledge.
Can you picture your pyramid?
Now let’s move a little closer and inspect it. How sturdy is it? If you look closely, will you notice any cracks? If you run your hand along the pyramid’s base will any of the stones give way and crumble?
Pyramids are strong, we need to remember, but they don't last forever. In the same way, we shouldn't expect everything we know to withstand the winds of time and change.
The Art of Un-learning
To keep our pyramid sound, we occasionally need to un-learn what we've learned, which isn’t easy.
Replacing a stone in our pyramid means we must admit that we have been wrong or misled. It means that we must stare down our bad habits or confront our stubborn ego. It means we must look at some of the beliefs that once defined us and let them go.
Our natural tendency is to protect our pyramid. We don't want to change our minds for fear of coming across as untrustworthy and shallow—and rightfully so. But locking in on a long-held belief with a death grip is arguably worse. It’s what Emmerson called the “hobgoblin of little minds.”
Emmerson knew that un-learning is a crucial component in a rich and adventurous life. He championed the “dissenter” who was willing to “quit this ancient domain” and “embark on seas of adventure.”
Think for a moment of the most adventurous person you know. Chances are your adventurous friend is a curious person, interested in new ideas, new mental models, and new philosophies.
Adventurous people tend to prefer questions to answers, they value curiosity over correctness, and they are drawn to the unknown. Adventurous people understand, either intuitively or consciously, that un-learning is a central component in learning.
"Adventurous people understand, either intuitively or consciously, that un-learning is a central component in learning."
If your goal is to engage life head on, to continually grow, and to live adventurously, then exposing yourself to new ideas, even uncomfortable ideas, is ultimately the most productive path. You’ll have to make yourself vulnerable, you’ll have to occasionally get out your hammer and chisel and chip away at what you’ve learned, but in the long run the path of un-learning opens a door to larger and more adventurous universe.