Learning is something that is seen as a good and right thing to do in human society today. This means it makes you see yourself (and also other people see you) as right and good when you dedicate yourself to it… to acquiring new and more knowledge. And to acquiring new skills and credentials. You don’t need me to sit here and tell you that learning is a good thing. Some people enjoy the experience of learning and therefore do more of it than other people. But no matter who you are, learning is part of the process of progressing and expanding and therefore, it is something that never ends. You will be learning for the rest of your life. But today, for the sake of your awareness, you need to become aware of a shadow that can use learning to hide behind.
To illustrate this shadow, I’m going to use two examples.
- Lauren is 32 years old. She grew up in a wealthy home where she never felt that feeling of wanting something badly enough that she needed and wanted to put forth effort to get it. She knows that if she gets into financial trouble, or really wants something, her parents will either bail her out or get her what she wants. Because of this, she doubts her own capability. She still lives like an adult dependent. When she thinks about really stepping into responsibility for her life and picking a career or starting a business and getting serious about it, she starts to get intimidated. She also feels like her life will become all work and no play. The idea of all of this pressure becomes so overwhelming that she looks for a way out of that pressure. So, she enrolls in a Hubspot Marketing Certification program. This certification program is one of so many that she has taken. She has a bachelor’s degree in human services and a certification in reiki and a real estate license and a global travel professional certification and a certification to call herself a Qigong instructor. She also went to school to learn how to be a mechanic to work on cars as well as to become an ACE certified softball coach. Lauren knows that doing this will buy her time. Her parents see education as Lauren getting serious and doing something useful with her time. This means they will keep supporting the illusion of progress in her life by paying her bills. And she can tell herself that she is progressing and is doing something respectable. She thinks that maybe with enough skills and certifications, she will one day feel capable of being responsible for her life. She can focus on learning and doing yet another certification program to avoid the feelings of inadequacy. As well as the fear she has about being responsible for herself and her life. But she doesn’t really use the certifications once she is done with them. The never-ending hamster wheel of enrolling in courses and getting new skills and gaining new certifications and credentials never really amounts to anything.
- Taylor has no idea what he wants to do with his life. He’s not one of those people who feels strongly that he is meant to be a doctor or a lawyer or an engineer or whatever. But his father has a lot riding on Taylor’s success. He wants to be a proud dad. He can’t be proud with an idle or unsuccessful son. Therefore, he finds it unacceptable that Taylor isn’t getting serious about his life trajectory and that he keeps partying. To get his dad off of his back about his life trajectory, Taylor simply decides to enroll in an expensive undergraduate program at a college straight out of high school. He doesn’t know what else to do with his life. So, he figures he can get his undergraduate years out of the way in the same way that he did all the rest of his school years… By attending courses that he hates about things that don’t interest him at all and doing just enough to pass. He can party hard in college. But his dad will be proud to say to people that his son is in college. He can feel good about himself telling other people he is in college. And he doesn’t have to take responsibility right now for what he wants his adult life to look like. His hope is that one day he will suddenly become interested in something and suddenly know what he wants to do with his life.
- Mateo has always been told by his family that he is destined to be a famous actor. This idea is one that compelled his family to put him into drama school and drag him from audition to audition as a kid. He was the golden child in the family because if it. Any time he tries to do anything else, he feels like he is doing the wrong thing. But he is afraid that if he moves to Hollywood and seriously pursues acting, he might fail. This will cause him to lose his special status in the family and to feel so much shame about himself that he doesn’t think he can face it. When he is offered an opportunity to play a stage role in a play with a director that has strong connections to Hollywood, shockingly, he turns it down. Instead, he decides to take out a student loan to go to film school. Every person he has met in the film industry says this is a stupid and unnecessary decision that he will regret. But Mateo thinks this is the right step because he feels he can’t achieve things right away. He feels he needs an in-between step to increase his confidence. This way, he can tell himself he is still on track to become a famous actor. He is still going in that direction, but he sure as hell isn’t taking any step that causes him to feel that lack of confidence and like he might let his family down or prove to himself that he isn’t as special as his family always led him to believe that he is. For Mateo, going to film school is falling back into his pattern of preparing to prepare to prepare to do something.
The shadow is that learning… Things like school, education, trainings, certifications, internships, degrees etc. can either be something that helps you to take responsibility and causes you to progress and expand and therefore really ads to your life trajectory. Or, it can be the exact opposite. It can be something that helps you to avoid responsibility. It can be something that helps you to deny, suppress, disown and avoid deep traumas and feelings related to insecurities about your competence and capability as well as the fear of failure. And it can be something that keeps you in limbo, spinning your wheels, wasting your time and putting things off to the point that it keeps you perpetually stuck in life. The tricky thing about this shadow is that if you are caught in it, the feeling of relief you will get at the idea of doing another course, or going back to school, will cause you to feel like doing so is the right answer for you and is a step forward in your life, when it isn’t. It’s just relief from pressure and avoidance.
Look at that feeling of relief that leads to your idea that going to school or attending a training, or getting a certification, or taking an internship, etc. is the right thing to do. And notice if your decision is motivated by your desire to avoid something unwanted. Energetically and emotionally speaking, does it help you to move away from something uncomfortable or to take off some kind of pressure? And ask yourself the following questions?
Consider whether you are putting something off. What might that thing be that you are putting off? Do you notice a lack of bravery inherent in your choice? What do you not feel brave about? Do you notice an aversion to responsibility in your inherent in your choice? What scares you about responsibility? What might be preventing you from going directly for your passion? Pretend that schooling is not a step towards your passion, what might you do to fulfill that passion of yours in another way? Would you still do that thing if there was no schooling for it? Do you feel like your life has been planned out for you? Do you feel like your destiny is written for you and that you “should” be something specific or “should” be doing something specific? Why are you being passive about your life or passive about what you want to be doing in your life?
If learning is what you are doing in order to avoid something, it is either a step backwards or it is a stuck-ness where you are. It is not a step forward in your life. And in order to know the right step to take in order for your life to move forward, you’re going to have to directly face whatever it is that you are trying to avoid through learning. Including the fact that you are using learning as a way to avoid something else.