TL;DR: Unteachables are things that you must learn yourself. Unlearnables are things that most people won’t be able to learn (if you’re not born with it, you can’t learn to do it).

“This is a thing that can’t be taught.” I’ve heard that sentence a lot of time, and sometimes it was said by experts. I used to think that unteachable things are unlearnable. I was so wrong. I only truly understand the meaning of that sentence when I’m 19.

A good teacher can teach you how to count to ten or how to tie your shoes. But no one can teach you to ride a bike, scream like a metalhead, or be an architect. You must learn it yourself. The best a “teacher” can do is gives hints, spots mistakes, etc. Even the best teacher can’t really tell you to “do this and then do that” and boom you’ve learn that unteachable thing. As Musashi (the samurai) says in Go Rin no Sho: “these things can’t be explained in details, you must learn it yourself through constant practice.”

So yeah, unteachable things may be learnable. But, how about the things that people, or even experts, say are unlearnable?

Some unlearnable things are unlearnable because it depends on talent. For example, you can’t sing in the bass register if you’re not born with the right vocal cord. However, I am aware that you can sing in the bass register using electronic software to drop your voice low. Another example is that you can’t slam dunk if you don’t have enough height. Yes, I’m aware that with enough training, even a relatively short person can jump high and dunk the ball into the basket. So yeah, with the right technology or a lot of practice you can still learn many talent-based unlearnable things. Even the magical IQ point is fluid and with enough practice can be raised significantly. Still, there are probably many talent-based unlearnable things that can’t be learned, because we don’t have the technology and we somehow can’t practice it. Like photographic memory or synesthesia.

Some unlearnable things are unlearnable because it’s hard to learn and most people don’t really want to learn it. This implies that such things are learnable. However, “I can learn it but I don’t want to” is more or less equivalent to “I can’t learn it (It’s unlearnable).” A lot of programmers like to say that not everyone can be a programmer. I think what they really mean is that to be a programmer, you need to have a lot of passion and dedication to learn it, and not everyone have that passion for programming, which is OK (your passion may be for another subject).

Some unlearnable things are unlearnable because it’s tied to your personality or, more generally, the nature side of the nature vs. nurture. I’ve heard a lot of times that you can’t learn to be a leader or to be charismatic; you have to be born with it. Some people may have some sort of genetic tendencies that make leading or being charismatic comes more naturally than those who don’t have such tendencies. I do know personally some people that I think have a lot of potential to be a good leader, but won’t realize that potential since every time an opportunity to lead (or at least practice leading) come, they just shrink back for whatever reason. For me, some of these are a case of having the talent, but not the personality or the willingness to learn. I judge good leaders by how much I want to be their follower by the way.

Now that I’ve type all that paragraphs, it becomes painfully clear that the cause of unlearnable things may be related to one another. Some people may not have the talent because they don’t want to practice. Others don’t have the personality, so they aren’t passionate about some things. Think of all the combination and interaction! And it’s not even an exhaustive list! Damn, it’s actually complex…

OK, I’ve been rambling too long. Let’s just end this post. Hmm… What should I write as a conclusion? Meh, I’m not quite sure… Well, maybe I can offer an advice: whenever you want to learn something and people say it’s unlearnable, don’t be discouraged, you probably can still learn it with practice, passion, or other means. But then, it may truly be unlearnable. Well, you must think of it yourself. However, our time in this world is short. Hence, don’t learn things that you can’t learn. Sorry if I’m not being helpful. But then again, this post is supposed to be descriptive (exposing the meaning and examples of unteachables and unlearnables), not prescriptive (telling you what to do with your life). Take this post with a ton of salt, OK?