The willingness to get it wrong.

It may be a groggy Friday (friends over for dinner last night, much wine consumed), but already today I had two Eureka! moments in totally unrelated areas:

  1. Crochet (it’s clicking suddenly – I can read my stitches – my crochet is coming out the way it is supposed to); and
  2. Fishing (the act of fishing I’m still learning about, but I realized that years at my job has taught me how regs and notices work, which is allowing me to teach other people).

And if there is any connection between those two things, it is the realization that my crocheting and needlwork make me a natural for knot-tying, a fishing essential which I am dedicated to learning this summer.

It seems so often we plod along, doing things badly or not quite understanding them for a long time…. and then (as if by magic) the brain reaches some integrative capacity and the knowledge or skills suddenly spread out and make sense. Like learning how to drive — for a long time you have to think through every gear shift, signal-flick, and brake applicaton — but then comes the day when you get in your car and instead of labouring through a mental process, you auto-pilot through the tasks. The brain and body integrate in such a way that driving feels like second nature.

Which just goes to show that the longer we hold our attention on certain areas, even if the practice is awkward and full of mistakes (and we show little “natural” aptitude), the more likely our bodies will integrate our learning. It is from that point we can actually ascend, improvise and strengthen – become good at – whatever it is we are attempting.

And there is no limit on how or when we do our learning: my mother (who is near-seventy) recently took up crab fishing and clam digging to great success… my partner is involved with a group of people teaching each other about hunting as they teach themselves….. my brother and sister-in-law recently hatched 35 chicks with little notion of what they were doing when they put the eggs into the incubator.

What I see about all this skills-acquisition around me is this: it takes a willingness to risk getting it wrong until you one day get it right.

When I was younger, my sense of self was so poor that I pretty much refused to learn new things. If I wasn’t good at it already, I wasn’t interested in learning how for fear that I would make a mistake and look foolish. But around thirty, that began to change for me – at the age of 29 I learned how to drive, a bunch of outdoor skills, and how to live alone for the first time in my life….. and ten years later I can say that this entire past decade has been about building from those things to develop a much richer life than I ever could have imagined. Just in the last year I have started a graduate degree and a certificate program, have begun learning how to fish, and have develped basic skills in crochet and garment-sewing. And no, I am not an exceptional person, nor do I possess many natural talents (or any except for that I’m a fast reader) — but what is true about me is that I want to get as much out of my short time on this planet as possible and that means taking some risks (and learning in the process).

Few people say “I don’t like to learn new things,” but many will say, “I don’t like to do things I’m not good at,” which amounts to the same thing. Skills are rarely natural, and even those which do arise organically still need work and polish to become truly useful. Our society puts too much emphasis on the myth of being born a “natural”, and not enough on the reality of the “10,000 hours” it takes to become an expert – and it is this myth we hear whenever someone claims “I could never learn to do that.” (I hear this about sewing from other women all the time…. but your must trust me when I say if I can learn to sew, anyone can learn to sew. I have never found anything I have less natural aptitude for, but I am still wearing a me-made garment as I type this).

Digressions aside, the best thing about my life these days is all the new stuff I am learning, doing, and becoming proficient at. The things I’m already proficient at are enjoyable, but don’t hold nearly the discovery-potential that new activities do – and I realize that if I hadn’t got over my fear of being bad at things ten year ago, then there’s a whole lot I would have missed out on between then and now – which goes for my future as well. It’s scary, and often frustrating (I am not a patient learner) – but when I look at the diversity of the last ten years, the rewards certainly outweigh the risks!

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