Easy Lessons vs. Hard Lessons

In the last few months, I feel like I had to learn some pretty expensive lessons on how to work more effectively. These lessons basically came from work endeavors that didn’t turn out as well as I would have liked, due to me choosing to work on the wrong things.

During one of my one-on-ones with Amber, I told her about how I was feeling and asked her what she thought.

I asked, “How many expensive lessons in a row are you allowed to have before you have to cut your losses? Do you ever get discouraged when you realized something was an expensive lesson for you to learn?”

She gave me a really good answer. “You can have as many expensive lessons as you need to. Just make sure you’re actually learning from them.”

She also said something else that I thought was really profound (paraphrasing a little):

“In a way, expensive lessons are the hard lessons, and the best kind of lesson. There are easy lessons that anyone can pick up from self-help books, or as best practices from well-run organizations. But the thing about easy lessons is that no one can really dig in why those lessons are important. They’re just there. They’re just the status quo. And eventually, the reasons why these lessons were important fade with tribal knowledge, until no one really questions where these learnings came from or why they were ever important. It’s the hard lessons you learn from experimentation, failures, and real life that really stick with you. These are the lessons that build your intuition around first principles.”

For what it’s worth, I think the easy lessons are still important: they teach us what we don’t know that we don’t know, and help us get our toes wet when we truly don’t have a good foundation on a particular subject.

But it’s the hard lessons that really force one to not just know, but to deeply understand. And at the end of the day, that might be the most important thing when it comes to making good decisions in and outside of work.

Understanding comes first; coding is the easy part.

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