Kurt Vonnegut on The Reward of Learning

written by  Ryan Seamons

When I was 15 I spent a month working on an archeological dig. I was talking to one of the archeologists one day during our lunch break and he asked those kinds of “getting to know you” questions you ask young people: Do you play sports? What’s your favorite subject? And I told him, no I don’t play any sports. I do theater, I’m in choir, I play the violin and piano, I used to take art classes.

And he went WOW. That’s amazing! And I said, “Oh no, but I’m not any good at ANY of them.”

And he said something then that I will never forget and which absolutely blew my mind because no one had ever said anything like it to me before: “I don’t think being good at things is the point of doing them. I think you’ve got all these wonderful experiences with different skills, and that all teaches you things and makes you an interesting person, no matter how well you do them.”

And that honestly changed my life. Because I went from a failure, someone who hadn’t been talented enough at anything to excel, to someone who did things because I enjoyed them. I had been raised in such an achievement-oriented environment, so inundated with the myth of Talent, that I thought it was only worth doing things if you could “Win” at them.

Kurt Vonnegut

As Kurt alludes, achievement-obsessed environments have some down-sides.

It’s easy to get sucked into making measurable “winning” the goal. And don’t get me wrong, business metrics matter.

Take, for example, Money. Money is fuel for a business and enabling for a household. But it isn’t the destination.

Money is a helpful means, but a terrible end.

In a world that worships external achievement (like money), we must constantly ask ourselves “then what”? After you get lots of money, then what happens?

Questions you should consider about why you do what you do:

  • Am I missing out on enjoyment because of a certain outcome I believe is ideal?
  • Am I robbing others of motivation and enjoyment in the name of achievement?
  • Is personal/team performance enhanced or hindered because of the pressure to achieve?
  • If I knew I wouldn’t fail, what skill or hobby would I pick up next?

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About the Author

Ryan Seamons
writes about more human approaches to modern management.

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