Forty Things I Learnt Before Turning 40: Lesson Thirty-Four

Mitch Robertson
6 min readSep 5, 2021


I have learnt that it’s ok to admit you don’t know what you don’t know because it’s best to be constantly learning. I feel sorry for those people that think they know everything. Life must be pretty boring thinking you have acquired all the knowledge in the world. I love the joy of learning something new each day and the nervous anticipation of trying something new for the first time. The world is our classroom and everyone we meet, every situation we are in, has the potential to teach us something, allowing us to grow. As a teacher of almost 20 years, my core business is learning and the way I see it, if I’m not continuing to learn myself, I’m not doing my students, team or even myself any favours. I think back to when I was completing my education degree, being introduced to the notion of promoting ‘life-long learning’ for the students in your classroom. A philosophy I live by and one I try to impart onto my students (and team of staff) is to foster the skills for and encourage curiosity.

I love the concept of “always being a white belt”, that James Smith discusses in his book ‘Not Just A Life Coach’, “meaning that no matter where you are in life, you’re a student of something.” Even when we get to the top of our game in a job, a sport or a hobby, all it can take is moving to a new workplace, new team, new context and it can be going back a level or two. There’re always new ways of working to explore.

As a teacher, and more so a Phys Ed teacher, I am more than guilty of hating not being good at things, so I often avoid things that are unfamiliar to me. A great quote from Rocky Balboa, I use to remind myself to get out of my head, is “Every champion was a contender who didn’t give up.” Brene Brown talks about a strategy for “embracing the suck of new”, called the FFT, which stands for Fucking First Time. In life we will face many first times and you can either run from it and try for as long as possible to avoid it, or you can come to grips with the fact that it’s a fact of life and roll with the punches. She describes FFT as having three steps. Firstly, to normalise it; reminding yourself that these uncomfortable feelings are supposed to happen when we are thrown into a situation where we don’t know what’s going on or we don’t know what we are doing. You don’t know what you don’t know, and that’s ok, that’s why it feels scary and daunting. Secondly, put it into perspective; remind ourselves that these feelings aren’t permanent, that as we get deeper into it, persevering through the sticky times, it will feel better. Just because we aren’t good at something, doesn’t mean we suck at everything. And finally, reality check expectations; understanding that for a period of time, things are going to be hard, you’re not going to hit a home run straight away but I will further down the track. This is why I love the use of growth mindset language of, “I can’t do it…YET.”

One reminder that we can’t go through life avoiding FFTs is what the entire World is experiencing with Covid-19. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in saying that this is the first global pandemic I’ve experienced. In the beginning it was difficult not to freak out and get down on ourselves for feeling like we weren’t getting through lockdowns and restrictions okay. The wave of emotions was constantly changing as we navigated our way through uncharted waters and sometimes, we took more steps backwards then we took forwards. For me, a mindset that I’ve adopted for a while now, is that it’s ok not to know what to do, but it’s what we do with the knowledge of the unknown that is most important. You need to seek out the information to move forward. In her podcast ‘Daring Greatly’, Brene Brown spoke with organizational psychologist and #1 New York Times best selling author of ‘Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know’, Adam Grant. Brene spoke about how encouragement of her children to take a “Major in curiosity” and Adam agreed, saying, “If knowledge is power, knowing what we don’t know is wisdom.” When we choose LEARNING over KNOWING, we create and innovate, rather than defend our knowledge.

Carol Dweck says in her book ‘Mindset’ that “Becoming is better than being” and I think this is a great attitude to have. James Smith backs this up by saying, “My trajectory is far more important than where I currently am.” The journey of learning is far more important than the destination we may arrive at. This is something Jay Shetty shares in his book ‘Think Like A Monk.’ “Desiring an outcome had always been reasonable to me. The monk was telling me to question why I wanted to do what was necessary to reach that outcome. Think about your motivations. In the first, all you want is the outcome. In the second, you are curious about what you might learn from the process.” The goal should always be what we can gain THROUGH an experience, not the outcome at the end.

It’s so easy to get caught up in our own little bubbles and comfort zones, choosing to stay in the safe waters of what is known, rather than venture out into unknown territories. I’ve found through many experiences of traveling overseas, oftentimes on my own, the many lessons that can unfold when you choose to challenge yourself. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be through international travel, it can be through applying and taking on a new job, starting a new hobby; there’s so many ways we can push ourselves. A song that reflects this, is Gretta Ray’s ‘Worldly-wise.

Don’t get complacent wherever you are
Learn to tame it, the longing for all that is familiar
Don’t let it kill you, no matter how far
Grow to love the details that define new spaces
All of the places this will take you

Broaden your mind, widen your horizon and lift your eyes
Are you ready to roll and go along for the ride?
High is the tide, as is your drive to be enlightened
Heavy with hope to become worldly-wise

An approach to learning more about a situation a close friend taught me is to be “curious not furious.” As a teacher it’s been a gamechanger, particularly in circumstances where emotions are high. There’s no point having an emotionally charged response when someone is acting out. By being curious and asking questions to try to uncover the reasons behind their behaviour, not only helps you better deal with the situation, but works to deescalate and regulate any heightened emotions and behaviour. Nowadays I will start an interaction with, “I’m just being curious, not furious…” and go on to ask the questions necessary and use it with everyone, students, colleagues, family and friends.

It can be easy to convince ourselves not to try something new for fear of failing. An acronym I saw years ago that I instantly loved and share with my students is FAIL stands for


The way I see it, there is no negative that can come from continual learning. In this day and age, with podcasts and audiobooks, it’s so easy to learn from others. The lessons I’ve been posting about reflect this, coming from books I’ve read, podcasts or songs I’ve heard. So it seems apt to finish with one last quote from James Smith’s ‘Not A Life Coach.’ “If you can read, you have the opportunity to excel beyond most by learning from the mistakes of people you never meet. To neglect this opportunity to me is to limit your learning, which puts nothing between you and someone who can’t read. Food for thought.”