Lifelong learning

Every person in the world is lacking some skills. Every single one. Some people can’t play the clarinet, some can’t speak Japanese, others can’t do a handstand. It’s normal to lack some skills. For the record, I lack all three skills I just listed. You can go through life without many a skill.

And quite often, people say ‘I wish I could do X’. They wish they could cross-stitch, speak a foreign language, or do push-ups. And that’s great. What surprises me is people that say ‘Oh, I’m bad at X’, and stop there, as if that’s an insurmountable obstacle.

you-are-free-to-learn-how-to-do-stuff-at-any-time
Copyright Natalie Dee.

At any point in your life, you can start learning a new skill, and make progress, and eventually master it. And yet so many people don’t make the attempt. This is especially pertinent to what I’ll call ‘life skills’: things like using technology, communicating, managing their own lives. Time and again I hear people say ‘I’m not good with computers’, or ‘I’m bad at talking to people’, or ‘I’m terrible with money’. It’s even been suggested that some people take pride in their incompetence.

I have a theory about why this happens. I think that people make their skill set part of their identity. This means that every time they’re faced with a new skill, it signals a great change of who they are as a person, and change is scary. So what they do is avoid learning a new skill because it’s not part of who they believe themselves to be as a person.

Common misconceptions

Let me address some of the misconceptions you might have about learning new things:

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Actually, this is untrue. There is no age limit for learning a new skill, although it can be harder as you get older. Keeping your mind active can slow ageing, too.

I’m not good at learning, so there’s no point in trying. It’s true that learning is a skill, and a valuable one. Why not get better at it? You’ve already mastered it to an extent – think back to a time when you couldn’t do something you can do now (drive a car, read, use your smartphone). You went from not being able to do something to doing it – that’s learning.

I’m not naturally good at X, so I’ll never learn. Talent can only get you so far, the rest is hard work and perseverance. I was told at the age of 16 that I’m not a naturally good driver. It’s true that it’s taken me longer than an average person to learn to drive, but I now do it every day quite successfully! You don’t have to be talented in an area to develop your skills.

Getting started

So how do you go from being the person who’s terrible at something to one who’s competent at it? Here are some ideas:

  • Find a person who has the skill you’re interested in, and ask them how they got there, and what they would recommend to someone just starting out. People like talking about themselves!
  • Go to a library and find a book on the subject.
  • Go to a shop and find a magazine on the subject.
  • Take a class. Adult education colleges offer courses in a range of topics, from English to hairdressing.
  • Join a group. Many clubs are beginner-friendly and offer some guidance for newcomers.
  • Take an online course. They are more flexible than night school, and quite a few are free. Coursera offers university-level courses in a range of subjects, while Khan Academy caters to a diverse range of levels. There are many more online course providers out there!
  • Research the topic online. The Internet is a treasure trove of knowledge in a range of media: videos on sites such as YouTube, blogs, how-to sites; the possibilities are truly endless.

Leading by example

I have to admit that I really enjoy learning new things. It keeps my mind engaged, increases my confidence, and helps me grow my inner world. To give you an idea, I’m currently improving my French with Duolingo, building up my crochet skills with a magazine, learning to manage my money better with online blogs, learning British Sign Language with a weekly class, and learning to teach people and to give presentations by trial and error. And that’s just a few examples – really, I feel that I’m learning and developing a huge variety of skills every day.

What about you? What steps are you going to take to keep learning?

 

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