Learning a new skill


fullsizeoutput_11e5Learning a new skill requires being able to repeatedly tell yourself that you’re wrong. But that is not enough. All that leads to is depression. It also requires you to dispassionately examine why it was that you were wrong, without every allowing yourself to fool yourself.  It’s this last part that is the pitfall that it seems is the easiest to fall into. I find that it is a constant battle to not think things like, “oh I’m just not good at this” or even simply “I can’t do it” but this is invariably bull.

There are, of course, things that I will never be great at… pole vaulting for example… (or for that matter many olympic level sports) I might become technically proficient at it, but I’m never going to approach being any sort of contender in competition, but technical skill is only part of the equation. There is some genetics at work, simply having started too late, having been out of shape for too long, diseases or disabilities picked up along the way… But in the end there is a wide gulf between a physical feat and a technical skill. The former is achievable by some, the latter (I believe) by any.

Step 1: you have to actually want to do it… this is important. without this, you won’t get anywhere. It may sound facetious, but there are more people trying to be good at things they don’t want to do that anyone can count.  I suspect the number is roughly the human population of the planet, minus a few lucky thousand.

Step 2: you have to be prepared for the pursuit to be never ending… I can’t tell you the number of people I know who somehow believe something like “If I only do this one more thing then I’ll be all set!…”

Step 3(or corollary to step 2):you have to be prepared to admit fault… a lot. And you can’t let yourself fool yourself. Look at what you did, evaluate what you did, then do it again, while taking into consideration everything you did the last time, and every time before that. If you don’t do that, you’re just spinning your wheels.  Theres a line about it taking 10,000 hours to become a master at something, I believe this to be largely a crock. For what it’s worth, 10,000 hours works out to 5 professional (9-5, 5 days a week, 2 weeks vacation a year) years. This is not true. To become a master, it takes as much time as you have left in your life.

To be very good on the other hand, you can probably do that in a few months if you’re prepared to dedicate yourself to being absolutely honest and ruthless about your current skill level. Unless you are able to see (and admit to) your limitations, errors, mistakes, etc. you will not be able to overcome them. In the picture at the head of this post is about 40 objects that I made in a session trying to understand how to make a bottle neck on a small vase.  To my mind, none of them are particularly successful. Each of them has a successful part, and each has several more failures. Each one showed me one or more techniques that I had to work on in order to make a more successful bottle the next time. Over the course of a few more sessions, I learned to push here, pull there, squeeze this, scrape that, until I could make a bottle of equivalent (or even larger) size, but with half the material, (but then learning from a customer that the missing weight in the vase was still desired, as a counterweight to the flower arrangements that he wanted to put in them.)

This is not to say that I think I’m any good. I think I’m learning. I don’t know if I’ll ever consider myself any good, but I hope that others will find what I’ve made to be.

(Coherent writing is obviously something I’m still working on…)


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