Fab Fridays 28: Five Things to UNlearn

Learning to unlearn is the new smart.

Hey there!​

Happy Friday and greetings from Panama.

Learning to unlearn is the new smart.

Alvin Toffler once wrote, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”

Below are 5 things we learned in school that we need to unlearn:

1. FEAR MISTAKES

In school, we lose points for our mistakes.

In the real world, we learn the most from our mistakes.

Success in school comes from getting high marks on tests. And we don’t get high marks on tests if we make mistakes. Mistakes in school are penalized, frowned upon, and associated with failure. We learn to fear mistakes.

But being scared of making mistakes is a mistake. Growing up implies making many mistakes. It’s how we learn and improve. It’s how we understand what works and what doesn’t. In the real world, we need to get comfortable with making (and handling) mistakes.

Unlearn: Fear mistakes

Relearn: Get comfortable with making mistakes and learn from them

2. FIT IN

School rewards those who color inside the lines.

The real world rewards those who think outside the box.

Schools try to put us into a box. We all learn the same things, in the same way, at the same time and pace. We are rewarded for pursuing paths according to someone else’s rules. We compare ourselves to others and strive to be “better” rather than different. We learn to conform. We learn to fit in.

But the real world rewards people who think and act independently: those who think outside the box and stand out from the norm. Successful people in the real world carve their own path.

Unlearn: Strive to fit in

Relearn: Break from the pack, find what makes you different, and create something legendary

3. WAIT FOR INSTRUCTIONS

In school, we have to wait for instructions and do as we are told.

In the real world, we have to figure things out.

In school, we have to wait for teachers to tell us what to learn and how to learn it. We learn to stay put and not get ahead of ourselves. We depend on someone telling us what to do.

Waiting for instructions doesn’t play well in the real world. Nobody wants to hire people who need to be told what to do all the time. To succeed in the real world, we need to test ideas until we figure things out. The world rewards those who are proactive and independent—those who can problem-solve and have the initiative to figure things out.​

Unlearn: Wait for instructions

Relearn: Try —> Fail —> Learn —> Refine —> Repeat until you figure things out

4. LEARN JUST IN CASE

In school, we learn “just in case.”

In the real world, welearn “on demand.”

In school we learn things “just in case,” from a fixed curriculum, hoping that it will include something that will later be useful. We learn long division “just in case” we ever don’t have a phone with us. We memorize the periodic table “just in case” we ever need to recite it. We learn how to compare triangles "just in case" it comes in handy in the real world.​

But knowledge decays quickly. Research shows that we forget most of what we learn but don’t put to work after 14 days.

In the real world, the learning process is driven by the demand for, rather than supply of, knowledge. We learn, teach, and share knowledge when it best suits our needs, interests, and styles. We learn “on demand.”

Unlearn: Learn “just in case”

Relearn: Learn “on demand”​

5. DON’T QUESTION AUTHORITY

In school, we learn to not question authority.

In the real world, we should question everything.

In school, we learn not to challenge or question our teachers. Those who question or have a different opinion are the “difficult ones.” We get used to accepting answers like “because I said so” or “because that’s how we do things here.” ​

In the real world, questioning things helps us develop opinions and come up with our own ideas. If we don’t ask questions, we get stuck with the status quo. When we question things, we innovate. ​

Unlearn: Don’t ask too many questions

Relearn: It’s ok to question everything


Adulting requires a lot of unlearning. It’s a matter of how well we do it and when do we start.​

What’s something you’ve had to unlearn?

Until next week,

Ana Lorena Fabrega