A few weeks ago, me and another member were having a conversation that I have long had with myself about knowledge and learning. This conversation was particularly about nutrition and human performance, but I would argue that it can be applicable to becoming better at your craft, regardless of what it may be. The conversation at hand was essentially the struggle of how to learn and grow with the goal of becoming one of the best in your field. I think this is definitely a struggle that is appreciated by many and understood by few. HOW do you become the best? HOW can I be like (insert expert)? HOW did they become so knowledgable? It’s as if they have an answer for everything… I won’t claim to know the answer, but personally for me, I feel as if I have been able to formulate at least a few strategies to filter through some of the confusion and bullshit which have at least helped to some level. As we discussed this struggle, I found that my findings and strategies were similar to his. Without scripting the entire conversation, albeit it was a good one, these are the take-away points from that conversation. 3 Things to Help You Evolve in Your Field.
1. Surround Yourself With/Learn From Quality Individuals.
This is not necessarily meaning that you should move hundreds of miles away to intern with or train with the experts of your field (although its not a horrible idea if you can make it happen). This is simply meaning that you need to have a group of mentors or trustworthy individuals to either follow their work, learn from, or bounce your ideas and concerns off of. The issue here being that since we have entered the age of (mis)information, anyone and everyone has now became an expert. Everyone has a channel on youtube and everyone is a kinesiology, nutrition, rehab AND strength training expert all in one (and each of them have an amazing secret that no one else knows). How the hell do you sift through all this and actually find the true experts? The answer: You look at their body of work. For health care professionals who have they worked with? Where have they done their training? Who trusts them as providers? Are they involved in research and do they have any published work?
In strength training or nutrition, what have they done personally? Who have they trained under or who were their mentors? Who are the products of their training programs? Start paying attention to those things and you will realize pretty quickly that the duds are typically going to follow a “me, me, me” call, as this is the only validation or credibility they have. For example: If you see a youtube channel talking about how easy it is to get cut and have abs by doing 30 minutes of work a day at home, question why it is that there are no examples success to show for it besides himself/herself. And while we are on that note of social media, for the love of God do not ever look at the amount of followers someones has. Just because someone has followers, has no merit whatsoever in how knowledgeable they are. I would even argue that this is an inverse relationship. The current world’s strongest man has around 50,000 followers on youtube. Pick any random channel under the category of “six pack” and you have multiple groups or channels with millions of followers. Who do you think ACTUALLY knows anything about strength? Have I made my point?
Once you do find these individuals though, let them guide your journey for growth in the right direction. If you wish to seek knowledge, find out what sources those individuals obtained their knowledge. Chances are, if you are trying to learn about rehabilitation techniques, if you start with scholarly articles published by a reputable individual, you will already be on the right path. Every research article is usually based off of 20-40 or even 100 other articles which are cited at the end. Pick a few that are relative to what you want to learn and go from there. Not only are you learning something relevant to your interests, but you are also learning from sources who’s information were valuable to the individual who’s opinion you value. One starting article could lead to 30 or more which are worthwhile.
2. Learn to Be Critical.
One of the biggest mistakes that I’ve seen from those who are on the path to betterment and “becoming the best” in their field is an almost blind following or gullibility to information. I will admit that I see this a lot in my field, but that it is not exclusive to chiropractic or health care in general. I’m not advocating the need to question everything, but it is critical to be able to step back and make sure that information being fed to you still aligns with the knowledge you have worked so hard to develop. Even in scientific literature, there does exist biased research and information does need to be critically evaluated to determine its validity. This happens as well with any marketing scheme in which a successful person is placed in front of the camera or microphone and starts promising all of the money and success that he or she has and all you have to do is follow what they do, buy “x” book or do a certain technique. Some individuals will see that as a fast lane to the promised land and buy into whatever dogma comes next. In this mindset, they are essentially relying on “if this person is successful, then if i do exactly what they do, I will be successful too.” I will argue that no one technique or certification has ever made someone successful or an expert in their field. To me, certifications can be helpful, but only few can be seen as a true indicator of one’s abilities. Knowledge still needs to be applied, and its the application and thought process of how to apply that knowledge that will make an individual stand apart.
3. Realize There is No Finish Line.
Whether you like it or not, this is the reality. For those looking to evolve as one of the top members of their field, beware: you are not running a race. I personally avoid looking at this process as a race with a finish. There is no finish line. There is no point in which you just stop because you have “arrived”. Name an athlete, profession, company, etc. that does not constantly focus on improvement and development in order to stay at the top of their trade. I promise you they do not exist. This is probably the biggest reason why there is a spectrum of people in every profession. Not everyone will be the top in their field or a world record holder, etc. It’s just not realistic. Those positions, records, and levels of expertise are unique because of the fact that they are difficult to obtain. So what makes those people stand apart? What do you do if there is no finish line? To me I think it’s passion and consistency. First, you need to have a certain level of passion towards your field. It doesn’t mean that you have to love every second of it, but it does mean that you have to feel strongly about what it is you do and how you do it. Passion is what will push you through hardships, guide your decision making, and entice and excite you and others to your cause.
Consistency is also a huge factor in building success over time. You can only go nose to the grindstone for so long before you burn out. So if you absolutely have to think of this process as a race, think of it as a life long race. If you really want to last, you better not sprint the first leg, otherwise you will burn out. Sometimes, you just need to trust that consistency of chipping away for a few hours a day is going to yield results in the long run over devoting huge chunks of time and effort towards a short term goal. I had an instructor in my schooling who was an incredibly intelligent radiologist and pathologist. I remembered him talking about his career and noting that at a certain period in his pursuit of education that he spent 2 years studying pathologies of the hand. From how to properly diagnose and identify on imaging, to cause (etiology) and treatment of these pathologies. TWO YEARS! Most people have a hard time changing their diet and exercise regimen even when their life is at stake for this kind of time. Even in fitness, you will only find a certain percentage of individuals who have devoted two years to bring up their weaknesses in the pursuit of furthering themselves. Consistency is the ability for you to constantly push forward and improve. Having routines, methods, and goals built into each day, week, month, etc. will allow you to maintain constant growth. Time can be a positive or negative factor. If you allow time to slip by without accomplishing certain tasks because you will “do it tomorrow”, it can be your worst enemy. But if you are able to utilize consistency and accomplish tasks and improve each day, time will compound and multiply this growth over a long period. The big takeaway is that when you look at the process of becoming great over a career 2 years out of 20 or 30 is not a lot of time. Time alone will be a huge factor in growing as an individual. If you use it wisely, it will pay dividends.
The other cool thing about consistency and passion is they eventually become habitual. After a while, you don’t so much force yourself to devote time to learning, growing the business, or building your strength because you HAVE to, but simply because it’s a part of what you do and value the most.