Break Free from Passive Learning Syndrome

“May you always,
Be satisfied"
– Angelica Skyler from Hamilton the Musical

My daughter is absolutely obsessed with Hamilton. So much so that when I went to New York to facilitate a leadership retreat, she gave me one strict order: Do not, under any circumstances, see Hamilton without her.

So, I ended up seeing the Michael Jackson musical and Breaking the Story, a play by one of my favorite actresses, Maggie Siff from Billions and Sons of Anarchy. And you know what? I’m glad I did. My daughter wasn’t interested in either, and I loved them both. I’m completely satisfied with my decision.

Speaking of being satisfied, as entrepreneurs, we can all relate to the late great Alexander Hamilton. Someone who felt like he was running out of time and was determined to leave a legacy. Sound familiar?

And while we should be responding more like Alexander, taking swift action based on new information, we often act more like Aaron Burr: “Talk less. Smile more. Don’t let them know what you’re against or what you’re for.” We get cold feet. Scared to make the wrong decision. We research like we’re running out of time but can’t seem to follow through. We end up lying in wait, and nothing changes because, well... nothing changes.

This is called Passive Learning Syndrome, and it creeps up on us for a number of reasons:

  • Change is a threat to our identity.
  • We will only change when we have a 100% chance of success, i.e., we have to be perfect.
  • Change will upset others, and that makes us uncomfortable. We don’t like discomfort.
  • We don’t think we are worthy of the positive results the change will bring, so we sabotage.

Do any of these keep you from taking action?

I tend to slip back into the idea of perfectionism. I can't move forward unless I know it’s 100% spot on. It’s why it took me five years and eight revisions to release my best-selling book, From Suck to Success. I also didn’t think I was worthy of the potential. My imposter syndrome flared up, and I was unable to get out of my own way. Once it was 95% finished, a friend of mine, who has written a dozen books, said to me, “It will never be perfect; just get it out into the public.” I trusted his expertise and experience, and I accepted his challenge. He believed in me before I believed in myself. Thanks, Joe!

By letting my friend transfer his confidence to me, I was finally able to release my Amazon Best Seller.

We can’t go at it alone. Scott Galloway, a serial entrepreneur and co-host of the business podcast Pivot, talks about having a cabinet of people we trust who have been there and done that. When we face a problem, we can research it, then take it to a forum to hear it out loud, get shared experiences, and know we’re not alone.

We also need cheerleaders—people who will tell us like it is so that when they lean in and cheer us on, we know we’re ready to face whatever outcomes follow. We can’t all have a far-from-helpless spouse like Hamilton’s Eliza. But we can surround ourselves with the right support to get lifted up with the same effect.

Who’s in your corner?

One last thing about moving through Passive Learning Syndrome: no decision is carved in stone. We need to move from passive learning to active learning – Reflect, Plan, Act, Review. This cycle ensures that learning and improvement are constant, helping us as leaders and our teams grow and adapt effectively.

Here’s to embracing change and moving forward.

From Suck to Success

In From Suck to Success, Todd uses his own experience in professional purgatory to propel your business upward by embracing Massive Curiosity coupled with Massive Accountability.

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Screenshot of From Suck to Success Book Cover

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