Nick Ang

Learning in public

October 11, 2020

Often, I let myself believe that many people just “get it,” that they know what they want to do in life and they just dove into it and became excellent.

For example, there’s this person whose tweets and website I lurk around. His name is Shawn (@swyx) and when you visit his website, you’ll see that he has structured and decorated it around the thing he has figured out about himself - he is a programmer. Clear and simple. Aesthetically, the blog looks like it was made by a developer. Content-wise, it’s impossible to miss how most articles are for the technical crowd.

And you know what? I bet some people reading my blog will think the same of me, especially if they know me only through my online persona. This Nick dude seems to know what he’s doing. Look at how many articles he’s written and published on his blog!

That, however, is quite far from the truth. I haven’t known and still don’t know what my calling is. I still don’t “get it.” Or should I say haven’t? I don’t even know about that.

But one thing has always helped me feel better is publishing my writing on my blog. This blog. I didn’t think of it this way until recently but what I have been doing this whole time is learning in public. With each article published, I feel more confident that I am at least improving in some aspect of life.

So while I have not figured out where to dive-in and commit the productive days that remain in me, I believe I am somehow accelerating my discovery process by learning in public.

I recently wrote about how you are not buying things with money but time and I did something different - I shared it on Facebook with my friends and acquaintances. A lively discussion (you might call it a debate) gradually unfolded and I learned how my thinking could be improved:

Screenshot of my blog article 'You are not buying that with money' on Facebook

From then, I started to share new articles on Facebook. Here’s another example of a more recent article where I reflected on 7 things I’ve learned from my first year living in Berlin (away from Singapore). Many people replied, some just thanking me for sharing a good read, others pointing out specific things that they agreed about:

Screenshot of my blog article 'Reflecting on one year living in Berlin' on Facebook

Again, you might see this as evidence that “Nick gets it,” but consider the many other articles I’ve written and similarly shared that were greeted by crickets. Here is me sharing an article about why I love the seasons:

Screenshot of my blog article 'Why I love the seasons' on Facebook

My point isn’t to showcase what kind of articles gain the most readership. It’s also not to illustrate how we tend to forget the process and judge only based on the results. While both are true, my point is rather that learning in public is always going to be good for you.

I had taken the time to distil my thinking by forcing myself to write pieces and publishing them. Crickets? Well, I still learned about the topic I wrote about. Uproar? Good, some people have just given me several opportunities to improve my thinking. Fanfare? Well… you get the point.

As an interesting aside, a university friend sent me a private message on Facebook Messenger to let me know how much she related to why I love the seasons. That’s the same article that was met with crickets when I shared it on Facebook. You never truly know who’s looking at the things you put online, and that means you will never know the contribution you might be making to people’s lives. It’s wise then to sidestep the Sisyphean task of trying to measure your readership and focus on learning publicly instead.

I believe that learning in public, whatever it is that I’m currently learning, will soon help me discover what my calling is. After all, we tend to like doing what we’re good at. If, along the way, I learn that people like to hear my thoughts on money, then maybe I should try doing that a bit more and evaluate if I enjoy and feel like I’m good at doing that. (I hope it’s not money, though.) Amidst the noise of crickets or fanfare, I believe a signal will eventually emerge.


Interesting, related reads:


Edit: Thank you Shime for giving feedback on this article.


Nick Ang © 2020

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