Love of learning

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When I first moved to Boston as a graduate student, I joined the local science fiction fan group. After each meeting, we would all go to a Chinese restaurant and order a bunch of dishes, family style. And there was one rule: you had to eat with chopsticks. Which was a skill I’d never learned.

They showed me, but I wasn’t very dextrous.

The food arrived and the people dug in. I tried. But by the time I’d clumsily taken a few mouthfuls, most of the food was gone. I left hungry.

Next meeting, same thing. But I improved. I eventually was able to eat at a normal pace and master the skill of not just feeding myself with chopsticks, but making friends and having fun at the same time. Now when I eat Chinese food, I insist on chopsticks.

Forced learning

Consider all the skills you have mastered — or at least attainted competence at.

Did you learn them because you had to, or because you wanted to?

Writing.

Problem-solving.

Raising children.

Exercise.

Cooking.

Interviewing.

Finding a way to get paid for your work.

Being comfortable in your own skin.

Getting along with a lover.

Operating a computer.

Organizing your time.

Algebra.

Spreadsheets.

Managing projects.

Leading people.

Other than hobbies and sports (birdwatching, surfing), most of the skills we learn, we learn because we must. Like me and my chopsticks.

We can’t pass a class until we learn them.

We’re on our own and won’t survive unless we learn them.

We fail and recognize that we’ll never get past an obstacle unless we learn them.

Our children won’t thrive unless we learn them.

We’re alone and can’t find friends until we learn them.

We can’t get ahead at work unless we learn them.

Enjoy the ride

It is natural to resent being forced to learn something.

You’re bad at it at first. You fail.

Everyone else is better at it. You feel inferior.

It’s a lot easier to do what you’re good at. Nobody likes to feel and look like an incompetent.

But you’re going to spend most of your life learning things that, at first, you’ll be no good at.

If you resent that, you’ll be unhappy an awful lot. Not only that, you’ll learn slowly and poorly, because a resentful attitude doesn’t help you learn well.

You could always embrace the idea that learning is its own reward. That’s a cliche, but think about it a moment. When you finally figure out some part of a task, don’t you have a small moment of triumph. You can’t have that without the little failures along the way.

You could celebrate each tiny accomplishment as it happens: the peanut lifted with chopsticks, the child who reads on her own, the spreadsheet mastered, the team led to success.

If you learn to love learning, you’ll learn faster — and be happier as you’re doing it.

You’re going to have to learn things you’re bad at, your entire life long.

So stop worrying so much about the destination and enjoy the journey. It’s actually fun, once you get the hang of it.

2 responses to “Love of learning

  1. In Montreal, my college friends and I went to a Chinese restaurant. The waiter asked if we wanted chopsticks and we all said yes. After he brought them, we started having second thoughts, because none of us had used them before. We asked the waiter if we could also have utensils, and he said, “No, our dishwasher is out sick.” Needless to say, we managed, and had a story to tell about our meal. When I was younger, I thought if I could just learn how to learn, it would be like having a universal key, and it’s remained a life-long interest. Now, I’m enjoying the experience of gamification of learning a language via Duolingo. I’m interested in what motivates me and what kills my motivation to learn. They recently added timing and praise after each lesson (praising speed or perseverance). I may be matched with a partner in friendly competition or teamwork, and can give her some of my points or receive a gift from her. I find it fascinating, the effect it has on me.

  2. I always wonder if learning to use a tool for which we have a better replacement is worthy.

    Recently, the paper cover of cheap chopsticks said that they were invented/ introduced because someone did not want knives at tables. I assume that these Chinese-ish used merely knives to cut and feed themselves. That’s odd too.

    My Chinese mom-in-law answered my question about which is better Chinese food in America or China with an emphatic America as we use better meats and vegetables.

    Learning is a lifestyle. Figuring out what to retain and what to reject is an amazing skill. Listen and ask the important questions. Build your knowledge base and toolbox. Experience everything.

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