Why do you need to unlearn everything you know?

Updated: Sep 21, 2020

Now, I am not talking about unlearning how to eat, or how to walk or how to breathe….but equally deep-rooted notions that are almost part of your instincts.

I was raised by two amazing parents who did almost everything right. They gave me and my sister a happy childhood, great education, and a very comfortable lifestyle. From their point of view, academics, a great job, a good salary, a good family and a nice home are essential to lead a successful life – in other words, play it safe, always! I am not saying that this is wrong or their principles and life values are absolutely nonsense. They had to go through a certain hardship and they don’t want their babies to ever be in that position. So they tried to stop us from making any mistake, prevented us from taking risks and always kept pushing us to choose the “safe way”. But for me personally, as someone who is adventurous and crazy, this was not always the right way.

Yes, I am who and where I am today because of these values instilled in me. But I am also that person who wants to jump out of an aeroplane attached to a stranger, go scuba diving in the middle of nowhere and someone who chooses passion over a great salary. But still, there are moments I second guess myself, because of these notions instilled in me by my family and by my society. And I also know that, if I don’t unlearn them I won't get to where I want to go.

This is especially important as a young entrepreneur. While you have been taught that to be happy and successful, you need to follow the rules of the society – good grades, good university degrees, great job, great salary, play it safe, etc. an entrepreneurial mindset is exactly the opposite. An entrepreneurial mindset is when you are looking for new problems to solve, looking for opportunities to come up with innovative solutions, have the courage to turn a crazy idea into reality and take certain risks where the chances of winning and losing are 50-50. This mindset also includes the ability to embrace failures, see making money as a pleasant by-product and not the sole objective, and dare to be creative in a world that mostly follows standard procedures. And to develop this mindset, you need to unlearn some things that has been instilled in you from a very young age.

So, how do you unlearn these things? First, you need to figure out what you need to “unlearn”. You can figure this out by consuming resources that stimulate your thinking, question your values, and challenge you to think out of the box. Scott H. Young, the author of "Ultralearning: Master Hard Skills, Outsmart the Competition, and Accelerate Your Career" has a few methods on unlearning, which I have briefly summarized below:

1. Seek additive knowledge in familiar areas and then use that new knowledge to start pulling up and modifying old knowledge. This is an easy way to start because you are dealing with things that you already know.

2. Seek other people’s experiences of the world. How people perceive the world is purely based on their upbringing, the situations that they had to deal with and their individual experiences. So, another easy way to see the world through different eyes is by listening to other people’s experiences.

3. Travel can be a potent form of unlearning. Talking to people in different places from different cultures can show how arbitrary many of one’s own culturally-specific views are of things.

4. Be more varied and bolder in your experiments in life. In other words, be brave enough to step out of your comfort zone now and then. If you avoid the obvious risks, many directions in life can be explored more thoroughly than most people do.

5. Be comfortable with mystery. Be open to exploring unknown territories and new things that you are unfamiliar with. This is another way to step out of your comfort zone. If something is mysterious to you and you are still willing to explore it, then you are giving up your control over the situation up to a certain extent, which will lead you to new experiences and thus, contribute to your growth as a person.

Unlearning is not an easy task and it takes a conscious effort regularly to not only be successful at it but also to broaden your horizon and be open to learn and experience new things. I would like to conclude this article by giving you a small list of recommended articles that explores this topic more deeply.

Recommended Reading List:

The Art of Unlearning | Scott H. Young

Harvard Business Review | Why the Problem with Learning Is Unlearning | Mark Bonchek

Unlearning in the Time of Continuous Learning | Amit Gautam