Don’t Turn Learning Into a Proxy For Action

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Don’t Turn Learning Into a Proxy For Action

I’ve toyed with the idea for a course for over a year.

I’ve been meaning to conduct it in front of professionals in offices, get their feedback, and eventually turn it into an online course. Pretty much like a startup designing and launching a new product.

So I read books on lean startups, learned about platforms for online courses, spoke to L&D experts, studied Kirkpatrick’s model of training evaluation, and bounced my ideas off anyone who would listen.

But do you know the one thing I didn’t do? I didn’t reach out to companies to conduct the actual course.


Well, all my learning behind closed doors made me feel like I was actually doing stuff. I even began to build sandcastles. I dreamt that my course would sell like hotcakes, which would lead to a platform that I’d sell for millions and become so successful that I’d appear on the front page of newspapers.

Fast forward to today, and what have I achieved? I’ve conducted one (ONE) program. And I’m using my work, or its lack thereof, as an example to drive home a point in this blog post.


When we pursue a new goal, it’s natural to start with learning how to go about it. It’s even natural to want to keep learning and dive deeper into the subject.

But if we’re not careful, this pursuit of depth in learning can become an excuse to avoid the one thing that defines learning in the real sense: action.

We read books and articles, sign up for courses, watch YouTube videos, brainstorm a ton of ideas, attend training workshops, buy expensive tools, make extensive lists — all this so we can avoid taking action.

Instead, we say, I spent four days learning this subject. Doesn’t that count for something? No, it doesn’t.

Because you didn’t learn anything. All you did was get the bragging rights to say you “know” stuff because you read about it. But the truth is that you have little of the real knowledge that comes from application, because your learning becomes a proxy for action.

Learning Cannot Replace The Work

The work pushes you outside your comfort zone. That path is an open, barren, terrifying place. Once you start walking on it, you have nowhere to hide.

But stepping outside your comfort zone also builds your character. When you act, stumble, and get back up, you build grit and you learn. Remember, we learn more from a single failure than we could from all our successes put together.

The work also makes you earn your results. If you get the result you wanted, no one can take it away from you.[1]Yes, luck plays an important role, but your actions create your luck. Even if someone or something does, you can back yourself to do it again. (Likewise, if the result wasn’t what you expected, check whether you put in the effort that was needed.)

Finally, the work leads to mastery and fills you with a sense of purpose—the feeling your mind and soul truly crave for, even more than love.

The Right Way to Learn and Improve Yourself

So, how should you take action in a way that fuels learning?

Start with choosing 1-2 goals that will improve your life as it currently is. Picking any more will stretch you thin. If you try to learn stock trading, Photoshop, creative writing, and coding while handling your daily chores and working a full-time job, you’ll run in too many directions and eventually give up on them all.

After choosing your goals, learn the basics and apply them in real-life scenarios. If you’re practicing creative writing, use the sentence-construction rules in your emails. If you’re learning to code, design a mockup of a product that you wished had existed. If you’re learning philosophy, find an area in your life where you can practice it.

Finally, when you get stuck, go back to the literature that you’re learning from. Check whether the creator of the course or book has answered the question you’re struggling with. If they haven’t, use Google or reach out to someone who’s already doing what you want to do.

Rinse. Repeat.

I’ve stopped trying to learn more about how to design a course and instead, begun talking with companies to let me conduct it for their people. After each session, I’ll make notes on what I can try for the next one. If I get stuck, I’ll ask Google or people in my network.

You don’t learn swimming by walking around the pool, dipping your toes in the water, talking to coaches and expert swimmers, or reading the swimmer almanac. You learn by paddling your hands and feet in the water.

Summing Up

“There is a difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.” — Richard Feynman

We have access to unlimited learning resources today. This is good because it means you can learn anything you want. But it’s also bad because you can use learning as an excuse to avoid doing the one thing that truly matters: taking action.

What good are 27 well-designed plans if you don’t try out even one?

What good are 50+ book-publishing techniques if you don’t try any of them?

Don’t deprive yourself of the pure, undiluted joy that comes from working on important but difficult tasks, overcoming your obstacles, and becoming better in the process.

Consistent action in the right things is the best investment you can make in yourself.


1 Yes, luck plays an important role, but your actions create your luck.

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