Geoffrey Long
Tip of the Quill: Archives
Learning vs. learned.

I woke up this morning with an odd thought in my head: is it better to be learning or learned?

Traditionally, scholars and experts are considered to be learned individuals, people who are, in short, paid to know. Yet once you reach a certain level, it becomes rapidly clear that to remain a professional, you must be continually learning - and the most learned individuals are frequently the quickest to say when they don't know something. Those people who attempt to sell themselves as being the be-all and end-all on a subject are frequently lying.

I myself am attempting to become an expert on the art of storytelling both in and across multiple media. I know that there's a ton I don't know, that I still have yet to learn. Yet what is the level of proficiency at which one can be deemed an expert? What is the level at which one is certified to teach? I'm happy to share with others what I've learned so far, and if the reports on my work are any indication, I'm pretty good at the art of sharing. Given all of this, I think I come down on the side of learning being the most important thing.

Sharing what I know frequently takes the form of teaching and consulting and writing - yet all too frequently I get hung up on the issue of sharing what I've learned so far because of another camp of people who thump their chests and proclaim that they know everything there is to know about a subject and anyone who doesn't know as much as they do is radically unqualified and should shut up - and they will shout down anyone who attempts to say otherwise. This is a very proprietary, exclusionary way of thinking, and I'm not sure it helps anyone. Yet I'm also afraid that this may be the dominant way of thinking - and the dominant business model - in the three areas in which I'm trying to make my living, namely writing, teaching and consulting.

On the other hand, I think that the best academics, storytellers and consultants out there right now may be the ones that have taken the learning model to heart. I haven't been writing or blogging as much as I used to because somehow my brain went veering off into this defensive land of "I have to know everything before I can say anything", which now I think has prevented a lot of useful dialogue. It's easy to recognize the wisdom in admitting you don't know everything, but it's a lot harder to actually come out and confess the breadth of your ignorance - and share your attempts to fill in those gaps - especially for me, right now, at this time in my life. I'm trying to reach the level where I can be recognized as an employable expert in my field - yet to get there, and to be a really good employable expert in my field, I need to admit how much I don't know, and share the areas I'm currently exploring.

Moving forward, I'll try and do more of that here on my blog. I'm growing increasingly aware that a blog may be a sort of antiquated technology in the day and age of Twitter, so I'll try and integrate that in some way as well - along with other social tools like Facebook and Delicious, and in increased engagement in conversation on others' websites. I want to try and speak to people, to steal a page from Henry's blog, and to essentially learn in public. My hope is that this shift in model both enables others to learn along with me and increases the value of what I can teach others later on.

Is "professionally learning" the same as "professionally learned"? I'm not sure. Is it as valuable - or employable - to openly admit that you don't know everything, and that you're constantly learning? Perhaps, perhaps not - but as long as you can educate others as you go and do a good job of sharing what you're learning, I suspect that this may be the best, most honest form of academic labor.

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