A roadmap of learning | Marshall Shen

A roadmap of learning

A roadmap of learning


To prosper the world, one must guide a nation. To guide a nation, one must nurture a community. To nurture a community, one must improve herself. To improve herself, one must follow her heart.
A great Learning

There are infinite amounts of knowledge in the world, and our time is limited. Therefore we must make choices on what to learn. But how does what we learn fit into our lives and others? Drawing from ancient philosophy in China, I have always relied upon a roadmap of learning from “A great Learning,” one of the four classic philosophy books in China.

The idea behind the book is simple: there are different stages of purpose for learning, and each stage builds on top of the other. To achieve harmony in our learning, we should center our learning on the purpose and stage.

Our learning journey begins within our hearts. Before learning anything, we must answer the question of why we should learn it, how the action of learning reflects our own characters and values. We must listen to our inner voice, and listening to our inner voice is not about what we do but why we do it. Our integrity manifests when our action is aligned with our why. When we have integrity, authenticity follows. When we have authenticity, we are at peace with ourselves, and we can sleep well at night during good and bad times.

Self-improvement emerges from the sincere desire to become a better version of ourselves. The definition of “being better” varies for each of us, and it’s only when we are following our heart that we can focus on our own journey of learning and growth. If we are not following our hearts, we might fall to the path of changing ourselves to please others: we might start losing weight because we want to look better for others; we might overspend money on travels just to keep up with friends. If self-improvement centers on self-love and following our hearts, we feel sincere happiness when we are becoming better. No one can take away that happiness from us.

We need to spend a lot of time following our hearts and self-improvements. It’s a constant practice throughout, and it builds the foundation for later stages. By just learning on these two stages, we introduce fulfillment and meaning to our lives. Given we established these two stages, we can move on to the next stage to spread love and care to others.

Nurturing a community is about caring for other people around us. We interact with families at home, friends at parties, team members at work, etc. Each interaction is an opportunity to lift up others as we share experiences together. When we are happy with ourselves and constantly improving ourselves, we express authentic energy through our actions and words. Similarly, when others share experience and knowledge from their learning, we benefit and grow through that sharing.

Each of us is at different stages of this roadmap. I’m actively working on the first three stages, and I’m still trying to comprehend the stage of “govern a nation.” In today’s age, I interpret “govern a nation” as “become a leader.” This stage is rooted in our ability to inspire others to achieve a common goal. A primary example of this is becoming a leader of a business organization, and guiding a company to achieve a certain product or revenue objective.

The reality is that there are infinite amounts of learning to do, and we have limited time. Hence, we need to prioritize what to learn, and more importantly, what not to learn. The most valuable aspect of this roadmap of learning is that it provides a structure that helps us make those decisions with clarity.

The priority of our learning is also simple: before we start to prosper the world, we must govern a nation well. Before we start to govern a nation, we must nurture a community well. Before we start to nurture a community, we must improve ourselves first. Before we improve ourselves, we must follow our hearts first.

For example, imagine a man named David who is the father of a 1-year-old daughter who needs a lot of attention, and a wife who supports him and the family. David is working at a startup with a very challenging timeline. He really wants to lead this startup to become a big success. However, before he pours blood and sweat into this project, David must make sure that he is following his heart on why this project is important to himself. After he gains clarity about why he wants to lead the startup, David must make sure that he sets time and space for his own physical and mental health. After he has habits on self-improvement, David must intentionally carve out time for his family and friends, and stay connected with his community. The alignment with the heart, self, and community serves as a sustainable foundation for him to lead an organization to success.

This roadmap of learning is a great conceptual toolkit that serves me well in my own journey of learning. Many other ways can guide us on how to grow, and what’s important is to have a mental map so that we experience life intentionally.