The Art of Learning, Josh Waitzkin


Josh Waitzkin was the child chess prodigy that Searching for Bobby Fischer is about, as well as a Tai Chi World Champion later in life. The Art of Learning was recommended to me by a friend, and is Waitzkin’s account of how he made it to the very top of two very different competitive worlds.

I enjoyed listening to his storytelling, and I predict the topic of learning/growth mindset is one that I will return to again and again throughout the course of my life. One of the key lessons from the book is that you should allow yourself to be broken down repeatedly by losing in ways that are informative. I used to play chess competitively when I was younger, and I think I never fully managed to do this — losses were usually just embarrassing. I didn’t quite manage do this with pieces of work in undergrad either, though I was more aware of the value of trying.

I think there is great strength to being vulnerable and looking like an idiot in public in a way that helps you learn. And it’s so painful to do, that you may actually look pretty good when you do it, since most people wouldn’t be able to stomach such a thing. Which is not why you should do it, but is a counterintuitive extra benefit.

Another key message from The Art of Learning can be reduced, I think, to “Wax on, wax off”. Which is another key life lesson I have not yet internalised well — but am working on!


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