Knowledge is Free; Application Priceless

Scrolling through pictures on my phone recently, I ran across photos of a long-forgotten brainstorming session on the whiteboard in my retreat center. These words jumped out at me:

Knowledge Free Application Priceless

Knowing how to do something and actually doing it are worlds apart.

When I watched the movie Ghost all those years ago, I was captivated by the pottery scenes. Demi Moore’s character made working with clay look so easy and flowy and beautiful and smooth.

Fast forward a decade and suddenly I had a pottery wheel, clay and a bucket of water in my art studio. Now all I needed was a little knowledge. Getting official lessons was impractical, so I turned to the fount of all knowledge: YouTube.

There were plenty of videos to choose from, and I had the good sense to include the word “beginner” in my searches. Eventually I found a woman who shared videos I could relate to and she was tailored to first-timers. I took my computer down to the studio, set it safely out of splash distance, started the video and then started – er, attempted to start – doing what she was describing on the video.

Nothing – and I mean NOTHING – felt like the video looked and sounded. She was giving all kinds of keys for how to center the clay and I would follow her directions precisely. In moments, I would see her clay center up and I could feel tension resolve inside of me. Then I would put my hands in the water and onto the clay and it felt like driving down the rode on four flat tires. There was no resolving of tension inside of me. In fact, the frustration built to the point that I considered throwing the clay at the computer – no wait. That would be bad. Maybe throw it across the room? At the window? Maybe THIS is why they call it “throwing pottery?”

She was giving me the knowledge. I just couldn’t apply it. Sharing my story at dinner one night, a friend said she majored in ceramics and could come by later in the week to get me started. Just a few seconds after she sat down at the wheel, she leaned back and asked me if I was right or left handed. It turns out pottery wheels are bi-directional. With the simple flip of a switch, a wheel that works for a left-hander can be converted to a wheel that works for a right hander.

I was so excited! Problem solved. NOW I could start applying all my knowledge.

Not so fast. With a live tutorial, I thought I would be centering quickly. After a few attempts, we realized that the clay had been in my studio too long and had gotten too dry. While an experienced potter could handle it, a rookie like me would struggle. New clay might be softer and easier for me to work with.

I was so excited! Problem solved. NOW I could start applying all my knowledge.

Not so fast. After I brought home the new magical, soft clay, I thought I would be like Demi Moore in short order. Yes, it was a bit easier. But only incrementally. I still had to somehow translate the words in my brain and images on the video tutorial into my hands on wet, spinning clay.

Knowing and doing are just not the same.

The biggest impediment to me getting through this early learning phase was not the process itself. It was my impatience with the process.

It was also my impatience with myself.

Instead of bringing a beginner’s mind to the table, I brought arrogance and knowledge and fear of mistakes. The combination short-circuited my learning.

If I want to really learn anything, embracing mistakes is the pathway of moving from knowledge to application.

Embracing mistakes can feel excruciatingly uncomfortable. What’s the point if I can’t get it right? Shouldn’t I want to do this well? Maybe if I tried harder, it would finally come together.

In reading those questions, do you hear it? Those questions are not mine. They are relics of the past. They reflect the subtle sound of teacher’s voices, old programming and rules that don’t serve me today.

Learning as an adult is not the same as early learning. It’s not the making of mistakes that matters; it’s how we handle it that decides just how deeply we can learn.

Where are you fearing mistakes? Where are you impatient with yourself? In what ways does your knowledge get in the way of application?