When we learn

Photo: wall in the Better Bean, Emporia, Kansas

Last night, I watched a friend move from fear to derring-do.

She, having birthed a trio of digital natives, was treading into uncertain computer territory. A file she’d relied on for her business got biffed up and needed rebuilding. She really wanted me to fix it, but she clearly wished to know how to fix it herself.

Being somewhat crumudgeony, I suggested she learn and unleash her creativity; freeing herself from others’ uncertain availability. All she needed was a bit of basic information (“limit fontfaces and colors for the love of god!”), a few rounds of talking through her ideas and best-practices; and the opportunity to learn.

“You know, the apocalypse has yet to be triggered by errors made in a Microsoft program.”

Guess what?
Learn she did.

As she wrestled from wringing hands to “I see it now!,” her face lost a decade of shadows and she glowed. Not the sickly glow of a computer monitor, but that twinkly-eyed flush of kids when they encounter a EUREKA! moment half an hour into working on word-problems. It’s the flush of delight and surprise many of us “older kids” feel when we risk something of ourselves to learn a new thing.

Recently, I enrolled in an introductory golf class. Even though my golf balls routinely stripped paint off a fence near the tee, learning to golf gave me that same sense of wonder and strength. No one – NO ONE – will ever mistake me for a golfer, but if I summon my derring-do, my swing will become less “whack job” and more stealthy tiger in the woods.

What are you wanting to do?

Are you hobbling yourself because of what you might or certainly will have to learn?

Are you freaked out at the thought of starting again as a rookie and all of the vulnerability that goes with it?

Is learning like a beginner really so terrible?

What’s not to like about a chance to lay down our weighty egos and carve a new skill, a bit of knowledge, or learn more about someone else?

A German gentleman just popped in; he was lost on a campus he had not seen in 25 years. His stumbling into my lunchtime office has brought the idea of why we learn solidly home.

Though I spent considerable time growing up along German people, rivers, and orchards, my command of the language has dwindled to a sad little lump on the summer sidewalk. I want to re-energize those parts of my brain. Perhaps to raise a “oui” bit of French from the depths of memory. “Aujourd’hui, je suis en retard” sounds good, but “Today, I am late” can only get one so far in the land of the Louvre and baguettes.

To learn, we make sacrifices of time, ego, excuse, resource, and the specter of “what I should be able to remember.” Asking for help, managing off-work time and finances to accommodate classes, and risking sounding like a bumbling blockhead might be good practice for the long run of this life.

Humility. Prioritizing. Planning. Asking for help? 
Maybe these are as good of reasons to learn as to build/retool a skill set.

I wish you could have been there last night as my friend boldly stepped into a better understanding of Microsoft Word and a wee wider life. To experience that joie de vivre is enough reason to learn something new.

And maybe – just maybe – your everyday derringdo will enable you to connect with a stranger who is looking for home.

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