I first heard the phrase “the learning curve” as applied to classes in college. I was told that the whole college experience was part of the learning curve and that it would take a few trimesters or so to “get the hang of it.” I didn’t really observe when the curve peaked or became easier. In fact, I don’t think I gave it much more thought.
But more recently, I can recall a more distinct learning curve. One year ago this week, I started work with my company. My first “real job.” My first legal job. My first job. I was thrown in the deep end right away. It truly was a sink or swim experience. But after the initial floundering morphed into merely treading to keep my head above water (sometime around February or March), I grew frustrated. I wanted to know the answers now. I wanted be able to go right to the right file each time for a client without muddling through file rooms. I saw the curve and it felt like I was standing at the base of a very steep, very tall mountain… with a long way to go.
I kept treading. And finally, one day in June or July, I realized that I had crossed part of the curve. I may not have topped the peak, but I certainly made a significant climb up over a ledge and the path doesn’t seem so steep now. And it felt great.
But work or education isn’t all the learning curve applies to.
I have recently determined that the learning curve exists between people, too. Take a roommate situation, for example. Think back to college. Go ahead, try. When you first began to live with someone, you didn’t know what the relationship would entail. You didn’t know that putting the toilet paper on the roll “backwards” would cause a great riff. You didn’t know that Saturday mornings were reserved for “the good coffee.” There are many components to a relationship with someone, and a roommate provides a good insight. It probably took you the better of your roommatedom to scale the human learning curve.
But in actuality, the human learning curve quite possibly takes a lifetime to ascend. For as long as you have been alive, you have accumulated a great deal of quirks, mannerisms, habits, and preferences. To name them all would be a monumental feat. But to ask or expect someone else to know them quickly would be an equally impossible task.
This epiphany came to me recently and it has been bouncing around in my head for many days. I realize that this is a lesson in patience, with myself and with the people around me. I must be patient when someone doesn’t “just know” that I prefer Diet Coke to regular Coke, so much so that I refuse to drink regular, or that I hate horror movies (and therefore they would not be a good first date). I must be patient. And people must be patient with me and know that I am learning them too.
And as good as I felt on that summer day at work when I finally “got it” (or at least a part of it), human learning curves are infinitely more rewarding when you top a ledge, or find that your curve isn’t so steep anymore. You will probably have that curve to travel the rest of your relationship life with that person, beit 7 months or 7 years or forever. When your relationship ends with that person, whether it’s because you cease living together, or you grow apart, you will have crossed the peak in the curve. But the best curves in life you may never know the other side.