What It Means to Understand

A quote that is usually attributed to Albert Einstein goes like this: “If you can’t explain something to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.”

You could pretty easily get caught up in the weeds of enumerating what six-year-olds can and can’t understand, you could debate whether nine or twelve or fifteen is more accurate an age for this quote than six, and you could even insist that this statement was misattributed to Einstein in the first place.

However, in a general life-truth-kind-of-way, these simple words ring true.

Let me explain why.

The Basics:

To begin with, think of something that you understand really well, and let’s forget about the specific audience for the moment. Maybe you excel in your knowledge of a particular musical instrument, a particular technical area, or a particular historical period. If you were asked to describe such a topic in thirty minutes or less, would you be able to? Would you be able to describe it in such a way that the basics, at least, would be made irrevocably clear? All things considered, this seems like a reasonable task.

Consider this, though. What if you only had five minutes?

Or even just one minute?

What if you only had twenty seconds?

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The Beauty of Different Perspectives

So much in life is about gaining perspective.

The impact of redefining your mental outlook as a result of this occurring can be staggeringly strong.

Consider this. Even as an adult, it’s deceptively easy to label your own habits and behaviors as the “right” way, and to deem everyone else’s as “different,” but “not for me.” And yet, everyone’s mindset is relative. If you had grown up in a different country or culture, many of your current habits and behaviors would never have developed in the first place. In fact, the ways of being that are now completely foreign to you would have been second nature!

The person you are today stems from what you were surrounded by as a kid: your family, your culture, your environment. For instance, you’ll find that the phrases generally used (or not used) around you when you were younger seem to make their way into (or mark a conspicuous absence from) your adult vocabulary. And although the knowledge you have or don’t have – how to use chopsticks, how to do mental math, how to send texts – may be acquired or enhanced at any time, it still holds true that the very existence of this knowledge hinges on your having been exposed to it in the first place. For knowledge that takes the form of a particular country’s customs, where you may have grown to love the culture and its behavioral norms if they had been yours, the simple truth is that in most of these cases… they weren’t yours. And as a result, you may not know what you’re missing. The cultures we grew up in may be great, but it’s humbling how many are out there. So remember…

Everyone’s childhood was different. Everyone’s life is different. Think before you judge.

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Authenticity, Through the Layers

In our daily interactions, we all betray our likeness to onions.

Below the layers of our clothes we wrap ourselves in our own layers – layers that are internal, inherent, and invisible. These are the facades that we put on when we interact with strangers, or acquaintances, or even sometimes our loved ones.

They are both our blessing and our curse.

Let’s take the first time you meet someone. Usually this conversation starts out polite and non-invasive, like a toddler dipping her toe in the pool to gauge the temperature. Such a conversation may transpire as follows: Nice weather today, don’t you agree? I do. So, where are you from? Where do you work? I like doing that too; what else do you like to do?

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Why Impossible is Overrated

One of the trickiest hurdles to navigate these days is so often planted there by others. With good but misguided intentions, friends and strangers alike may attempt to nudge you along certain paths in life… but if those paths aren’t right for you, you shouldn’t take them.

Let me introduce Mr. Turtle, who will serve as our exemplar throughout this post. Mr. Turtle is your average green-skinned hard-shelled turtle. Not long after emerging from his egg, Mr. Turtle realized he had a dream, a dream that he wanted to achieve more than anything else in the entire world. The dream? Why, to complete a marathon! Mr. Turtle envisioned working diligently day after day to reach his goal, to have his four legs bringing his tired yet dignified body across the finish line and towards personal glory. He wanted it with every fiber of his reptilian body. The catch? His family and friends took great pride in their more traditional ways, and the Turtle society would never condone such a thing. Just think, they scoff, a turtle competing in a marathon! How preposterous!

What does Mr. Turtle do?

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Probability and its Perplexities

You know, probability is an interesting thing. We always want it to work in the way that benefits us, despite it sometimes balling up its fists and insisting quite the opposite.

Winning the lottery? Ultimately, very unlikely. However, how many hopeful dreamers buy lottery tickets? Loads of us. Maybe this will be the time…

Applying sunscreen? Getting seven to eight hours of sleep? Ultimately, very important for our health. However, how many people consistently maintain these habits? Fewer people than logically makes sense, given the proclaimed benefits. I’ll make do without, just this once…

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Skills – Lost and Found

To me, the primary reason that we lose once-mastered skills is simply a prolonged lack of application, and with focused effort, we can get them back.

Let’s say, for example, that you are performing a speech, completing a graded school assignment, or even overcoming your body’s tiredness by staying out late. Once, perhaps, you did those well. And now, not so much. What has caused this change? Is it age? A permanent loss of skill? Or is it something more?

Here are three stories to wring this topic of its secrets.

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Real World, New Rules

“After I finally learned the ropes, they changed all the rules.”

This statement, from this Humans of New York post, is a no-frills, boldly honest declaration that defines so many life experiences. It sits there and bides its time, waiting patiently as you struggle to adapt to the circumstances you’re in. At some point you do adapt, and then, and only then, does it pick its moment – and bam. The old rules no longer apply, and new ones sneakily take their place.

As I am currently coming to terms with the results of such a transition-filled experience, this quote resonates with me in an especially relevant way. Let me explain why…

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No Excuses

I am a huge advocate of the phrase, “If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way.” If you know me well enough, you’ve heard me say this at least once.

Do you remember those self-assessments that you may have taken when you were younger, which asked, “Would you get up at 5 in the morning for the fill-in-the-blank activity?” If you answered no, you were said not to care for it enough. If you answered yes, you had found something you loved. When I thought the question through, I came to the conclusion that I loved my sport, but was burned out of playing my musical instrument. It is by no means a perfect test, but I think it gets at an important point.

What you would get up for really goes a long way to defining something you deeply care about, and by extension, this feeds into who you are.

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