January 7, 2019

When Is It Enough?

Recently my friend Chris DeMars tweeted the following:

When I clicked into the thread of responses, I was not surprised to see that a lot of the comments ranged from "what is the definition of enough" to "it will never be enough." And as someone who has gone through the entire gamut of that range, I'd like to offer my thoughts on this.

"It Depends"

The Intention

This answer is well-intentioned from the perspective that the person who says this answer does not want to lead someone astray. After all, you don't want to give someone directions to the city if they were headed for the beach. So this answer tries to cover all the bases and gather more information from the new person.

From My Point of View

While there are merits to this answer, I have come to realize that this is probably the most frustrating for new people asking the question because of one thing: information overload. As wonderful as it is that the internet is now filled with countless resources, that also means that there are countless resources. Coupled with decision paralysis, this is an absolutely terrible environment for people new to something.

"It Will Never Be Enough"

The Intention

To be honest, this was my gut reaction to the question as well. After all, it is well intentioned because you don't want to trick people in to thinking there's a "stopping point" and that the learning is continuous.

From My Point of View

Similar to the previous answer though, it is not helpful to new people because it makes the task daunting. If you were to put yourself in their shoes, this reaction naturally elicits the feeling of "Whelp this is impossible because I'm already behind and I'm never going to catch up."

Is there validity in this statement? Absolutely. Those of us in the field of development know that the journey is one of lifelong learning. However, this doesn't mean we need to weigh down new people with that realization all at once. After all, the naivety of going into a new field is part of what makes the discovery of new concepts and connecting the dots all that more exciting.

On top of that, this answer also suffers from the same issue of information overload because people's brains are only capable of handling so much at once. If you try and put all that pressure immediately on new people, you're most likely going to scare them away into thinking they're not capable when that is normally so far from the truth.

To put it another way, when you are planting the seeds to grow a tree. Do you try and provide it all the water that it needs in order to become a tree? I sure would hope not because you're going to drown the seed before it has a chance to become a tree. You give it the right amount of water over the appropriate amount of time. And by doing so, you are maximizing the chances that the seed will germinate into an epic oak tree.

But It Can Be Enough

Contrary to popular opinion, it's important to know that there is a point where the learning is "enough." If I had to sum it up in one line, it would be:

You have learned "enough" when feel that you have acquired enough literacy to be able to navigate additional resources on your own.

Consider the scenario where your goal is to move to a new country where you don't speak the language. And yes, we are assuming that you don't have internet / a translation app. Without any guidance or help, this is a terrifying scenario because you don't understand anything.

So in this case, when do you learn enough of a language? Well, I would say it's something along the lines of:

  • Being able to ask for the bare necessities in life (i.e., where the bathroom is, ordering food, etc.)
  • Understanding simple conversation phrases so you're not a complete weirdo
  • The ability to say something along the lines of "I'm new to the area and my language skills are very limited"
  • Basic literacy (i.e., learning the alphabet) so you can pick up additional resources to gain new phrases for scenarios you will encounter / care about

Is it true that there are a ton of scenarios to consider before choosing what to learn? And is it true that a language has a multitude of specialties (i.e., literature, poetry, specialized vocabulary, etc.) that even native speakers never master or even remotely comprehend? Yes. Both things are true, but what matters to someone new is to grasp the essentials so that they themselves can figure out what to focus on next.

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, it's true that "knowing enough" means something different to everyone. However, as long as the person is asking the question and willing to figure out a way forward is what is important.

So to all those brave souls embarking on a new adventure to learn about a foreign new skill, I applaud you. Now charge forth and forge ahead to the adventure waiting for you. And remember that at the end of the day, you are enough.