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The Necessity of Learning

Ask any surgeon and they’ll tell you that 25% of the blood that is pumped from the heart goes to our heads. The effort it takes to think and learn is actually much more than we think. No, it might not quite be the same as going for a run or stopping by the gym for a quick post-work workout, but learning takes a lot of time and energy. Maybe that is why so often we hear ‘When I come home, I can’t wait to watch my favourite show. Hell, I may even watch five or six episodes and fall asleep to it!’. Watching primetime TV doesn’t make us think much. It is easy watching and at the end of the day, doesn’t challenge us much.

When we read a book or have an intellectual conversation, we are challenged in how we think and why we think it. Conversing always puts us in a bit of a spotlight that forces us to be a better version of ourselves. We don’t want to look silly, uneducated, dumbfounded, or anything that has the other person think any less of us.

I’ve found though, and this isn’t something that is shared just with me, is that the more I know, the more I realize I have to know and the hungrier I am for knowledge and information. Coming from a small town in interior Canada, there are limited experiences, people, and conversations based on where people have been and what they have seen. Then, moving to a city that is usually viewed as a single industry town, the conversation very rarely strayed from the hand that fed the majority of people there. Now having moved to a costal city that has a diverse economy, but a lifestyle that is much more laid back and relaxed, I’ve found again that the lifestyle is different and the people of the city have yet another way of viewing the way they live and the why behind it.

When we are cooped up in our houses and glued to the computer or yet another episode of our favourite Netflix show, it is becoming more and more clear that the world we live in is less and less hungry for information despite having more and more of it at the tip of our fingertips. As a result, we see the rise of ‘experiences’ that don’t require us to leave our couches, and a society that is getting increasingly apathetic.

Perhaps I should try and qualify this and be a little more specific. In Canada, more and more people are getting an education, and are ‘smarter’ as a result. But with this increase in technology and ease to sit in our living rooms and ‘get updated’ via twitter or whatever media we choose to use, we physically experiences less that we did in the past. Less people are going out, being social doesn’t have the same connection with being out in the community as it did before, and our experiences, those things that really challenge us, happen in a different way than they did before.

In a presentation to a university co-op group, my co-founder Emerson Csorba talked at length about community and the curiosity needed for people to be learning and the best version of themselves. He spoke about membership to philanthropic or charitable groups be financial only, so that people could say they were a part of something bigger, but still not have to leave the comfort and safety of their homes to actually participate. To build the resume, people don’t have to disclose the hours they may have been social and present, just the hours they helped, which may not have to be in person at all. This is slightly worrisome as the actual interaction of people is dwindling.

There is a necessity to learn, to experience, and to be scared. In a time where job tenure and happiness is falling, we read and see on TV what a job might look like, but forget this studio portrayal isn’t real. It isn’t what we live and we become anxious as a result.

Experiencing life and learning must increase. Failure has to actually be embraced as a part of life and viewed part of the experience. People have to get off of the treadmill and into the park to see new things, smell new smells, and learn about the community and the people in it.

The Derivation of Guilt

There’s something about online presence in the last few years. Aside from the generally undereducated public opinions and over-activism, we see a ride in the everyday philosopher; you know, the people who post and repost those inspirational quotes someone once mumbled while drunk at a bar and thought it sounded nice. I mean, those aside, there are the leaders of the world who have said some very profound things. At times these quotes have undoubtedly changed the way I think about my day and how I’m going to roll down this road of life. But at the end of the day, even after all of these inspirational quotes are read, we still grab McDonalds on the way home and fall asleep to the 3rd rerun of Friends on Netflix.

Shit. I’m guilty.


Guilt is a powerful thing. After working on a startup and reading and writing more than I think is healthy for the average young Canadian, I’ve found that guilt, more specifically self-guilt, has come from my inability to act on the things my mind and body says I should do.

In the past little while, I’ve become a list guy. I’ve embarrassingly become someone who emails himself more than he sends to colleagues and peers. I scribble things here and there and I have a new app on my phone that makes a nice sound when I click the item to be finished.

Quite often there is a feeling to write one more email, eat one less junk food item, or go to the gym once more a week. Doing these things takes pressure off of our shoulders and makes the rest of our day clear. Often I talk about capacity, and to have these tings checked off and have our heads more free to think about the things that matter makes us much more effective and efficient.

Each day has 24 hours, and within those 24 hours we have time to think about a finite amount of things. The amount of time and space that guilt occupies is suffocating. It can lead to stress, and stress can lead to a number of things that will consume much more time than whatever it was that we avoided doing in the first place. Sure, this may be an extreme case, but it has to start somewhere. Every professional was an amateur once, and every high-stress situation that is caused by self guilt is very likely the inaction on something can could have been done if we turned off the T.V. one episode earlier or make a healthy (likely cheaper) meal at home.

We are complex beings. There are nearly infinite factors that contribute to our day and how we determine the outcome. There are things we can control and things we can’t. Guilt, when it comes to the action or inaction of ourselves, is something that can be avoided, as long as we are determined enough to make the decisions that will pay off for us most in both the short and long term.

Sell Problems, Provide Solutions

Although I haven’t had too many mentors, I did have the opportunity to meet on numerous occasions with former Alberta Finance Minister and Chancellor of the University of Calgary for four years, Jim Dinning. Jim took interest in his the students at the institution he represented and made a point of offering a helping hand any chance he could. Being a Vice President of the Student Union certainly helped, but I suspect that with enough interest and effort, he would have helped anyone who dropped him a line or knocked on his door.

One morning in particular stood out in my mind tough. At a breakfast at a his favourite diner in downtown Calgary, we sat down for breakfast in late 2014. I wanted to know more about his experiences and learn some key bits of advice he might have for a young person trying to make his way in the business community in a city that was starting to feel the pinch of a economic crisis that became much darker than even some of the brightest people the in province could have sketched up. He told me something I’ll never forget. Sell problems, provide solutions.

Taking this advice, we were able to take a start-up company into something that provided the lives we wanted to live. I was able to travel more, relate to more people, and really speak to people without ever feel like I was selling to them. What I found is that people love credit, and they love to feel like they’re making a difference. If we address problems, and work together to provide solutions, we can all be engaged in the conversation and collaborate to find solutions. It turns out that in a typical management consulting relationship, the trade is monetary compensation for the solving of a problem. Why fix a problem that doesn’t exist though? Why provide a solution to something that isn’t wrong?

See, if I were to try to sell you a raincoat when it was 30 degrees out, you’d probably tell me I was crazy. In the same breath though, if I told you that it was going to be cold and rainy tomorrow and ask you how you were going to stay dry, the solution would likely be that you tell me you need a raincoat. I have one, and even though its raining out, you’re probably going to want it.

What I’ve found is that this key bit of advice extends much past sales though, and rings true in our daily lives too. Now, instead of trying to sell the things that I want to do on a Sunday afternoon, for example, I will sell why we shouldn’t do something that I don’t want to do, and let the people I’m with come to the conclusion that I was hoping for anyways.

Where I find this most interesting though, is how we can apply this to our daily lives, and what we want to get out of work. If we start addressing our own problems instead of trying to solve things we don’t think to be wrong, how is it that we can really ensure that we’re getting the most out of the action we’re making?

When I started Gen Y Inc. with Emerson Csorba, I often thought about the lifestyle I wanted to live, and the problems with the life I was currently living. In my life, I didn’t get the opportunity to travel as much as I would like. I learn the most when I’m in a situation I don’t understand well and so I wanted a job that could get me out of my comfort zone and learning a lot. To solve this problem, we had to create something remote and service based. This allowed me to solve a problem I addressed right away. The entrepreneurial path has simple been solving this problem by solving others first. This allowed for flexibility and the lifestyle I dreamed of.

Jim Dinning is a wise man that I look up to more and more, the better I under I understand. He asks the right questions at the right time, and always provides great advice. What he always asks first though, is ‘what’s the problem?’

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