Which is better? Learning something in fun, fast and entertaining way, or learning something hard, maybe boring, something that takes persistence and effort?
For a long time I thought that the first way was the only way to go. I was a bright, eager learner, and quickly picking up new skills became something of a hobby. I know something about just about everything.
Notice, however, that I don’t say “master.” Still I could justify it by saying, “Well, it’s not like I want to do it for a living. I just want to know what it’s all about.”
Jack-of-all trades, or polymath? On one hand, I never finished school. On the other, I can talk about just about anything. And if I can’t, I learn. I went to a gun show this weekend for the first time in my life. By the end of it, I could just about understand the language they were speaking. I understand that what looks like a sniper rifle (at least according to all the cop shows I’ve seen) is, in Canada at least, a “hunting rifle.” Really.
[On a side note: What a different philosophy there. The man in the booth next to me gazed out across the array of rifles, shotguns, handguns and assorted accessories on display and said, “Don’t you feel safe here?” Luckily, I realized he was serious before my tongue slipped its leash.]
So anyway, I would go along, picking up skills here and there, but anytime I really had to work at something, I would pretty much conclude it wasn’t right for me and move onto the next thing. Until I decided to get my trucker’s license.
There are many, many, familial jokes about my success with vehicles. In my defense, I have not had an at-fault accident since I was 16. I just have really shitty luck. And when I went to learn to drive a semi, I was recovering from mono. Guess how long my attention span was?
The driver’s test is taken in downtown Saskatoon, which, in January, is icy, rutted, and riddled with railway tracks and one-way lanes. If someone cuts you off, you fail. If someone blocks your corner, you fail. If someone runs a yellow light and forces you to stop in the middle of the train tracks—you fail. I think I took that exam seven times. My pride was on the line—I was going to become a trucker, come hell or high water.
That’s when I learned the value of skills you have to work at. It’s not the skill itself that’s valuable. It’s the feeling of accomplishment you get from perseverance. Driving semi gave me a feeling of empowerment that learning to dribble a basketball had not.
It’s the tough stuff you’re proud of. I’ve written one play and dozens of short stories. I like the play more every time I read it. I can bake just about anything, but when guests come—I want a challenge; sponge cake. I can frame, drywall, shingle and paint, but I’m slowly learning cabinetry. Guess which one I talk about at coffee?
You may or may not get out what you put into it, but you think you do. The challenge of pushing your self is where the true value lies. It’s not about not asking for help. It’s about not denying yourself the opportunity to learn.
Maybe learning’s not your bliss. I know it’s mine.