I think learning new things is one of the most satisfying and dopamine-inducing experience for me, many of my brightest memories of my life are around learning. But the learning has to be of a specific kind, obviously it’s not like I enjoyed all of my college courses. So what gives?

I wrote a post about this about 4 years back which goes into the ownership aspect of this phenomenon. But I recently realized there’s also another aspect, the output of the said learning.

If the goal of the learning is mere input, then it’s very less likely that I’ll stick with it. But when the goal of the learning is some output, then I’m much more likely to stick with it, and moreover get passionate and excited about it.

As a concrete example, I’ve always wanted to learn a new programming language and get good at it. I even started with Golang, but didn’t go far and just got distracted in a few days. But recently when I had to learn Rust and Solana development for an interview assignment, I did an 18 hour coding marathon learning it all from scratch. And this pattern has emerged in the past too, whenever I was very energetic about learning something, the learning was means to some other end.

I suspect this is true not just for me, but for many others, possibly everyone. So if I’m to make it a general rule it’ll be like the following:

Learning can not be an end-in-itself. It has to be means to an output. Whenever we pick up a project, the end goal of the project can not be the fact that I’ll end up with some input—the knowledge, the goal should be some output—creating, teaching, writing, etc.

Of course the nature of the output matters too, but that will vary from person to person. Different kinds of output appeals to different people at different stages of their life. The output can be anything: earning money, teaching others, creating products, solving some societal issue, contributing to research, etc. Even if you’re motivating and influencing others by putting yourself out there, you’re making an impact on the world, you’re producing some output. The worst if you’re just learning by yourself, isolated.