Learning… And Leaving
When I was working on my M.B.A., the most difficult class I took was Investment Finance.
I was an English major (so naturally working as a typist/file clerk), and only had a superficial interest in business, but my employer was paying, and I did really like school. Of any kind.
I seemed to have an aptitude for Accounting. It was just so logical. Which literature and writing are not. I felt somehow neat and clean every time my accounts balanced.
And as for subjects like Marketing – well, no offense to you marketers, I know it is an art and all, but honestly, it is the art of bullshit.
Human Resources is a lot more complicated. But I found that if I just answered any question by asking myself, What is the most pie-in-the-sky, altruistic response? – I’d most likely be right. Sort of like a teenager who tells his parents what they WANT to hear.
But oh my, Investment Finance! Formulas for Returns-On-Investments and stock buybacks and market volatility and stop-loss orders and short sales and derivatives! I was way over my head, considering my focus in college was The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
How I struggled. And one day I was speaking to another of my professors, and mentioned my difficulties with Investment Finance. And she said, “Oh, but you have Dr. Smith! If you understand a third of what he is saying, you are learning more than if you learned 100% in someone else’s class.”
The sky brightened a whole lot.
Maybe I wasn’t learning everything. But I was learning a WHOLE LOT.
And that’s one reason I wish folks weren’t so hard on themselves when they are learning something new.
You are a lot more capable than you think you are. Sure, there is a ton of shit you don’t know, but look at all the shit you’ve learned.
First of all, you toilet-trained yourself. Oh sure, your mother took the credit, but you are the one… who at only two years old (or maybe three, but… eventually…) figured out what you needed to do to keep your pants dry.
And not only did you learn to feed yourself with that crazy thing called a fork, but many of you even know which fork to use for which food.
And you learned to read and write your name, and make model airplanes and crochet and swing a golf club and walk in high heels and drive a car and pay your taxes. And how to pick the smarmiest answer on the Human Resources test.
And a jillion other things.
So this next thing…
You can learn that too.
I remember when I first started working in a job that required some business travel. I went out to Omaha, Nebraska for a meeting. When I returned, my mother said, “I don’t even understand how you did that – travel to a strange place all by yourself!”
Well, when I considered it, I could see her point. Just going somewhere new is a test of your learning abilities. Learning is a little scary and traveling can be scary too. I found the best method for me was not to think about the whole of it, but just to worry about the most immediate piece and then go on to the next worry.
Like first I got myself to the airport. Then I parked my car. Then I went to the right gate and got on the right plane. Then there was a big piece that was someone else’s worry – getting me from Connecticut to Nebraska. I arrived at night, so I hailed a cab and got to the hotel. First thing in the morning I asked the concierge about renting a car, and was directed to the right place. The car rental person gave me a street map, and I found my meeting location. Then I sat in that meeting and smiled and let myself be bored out of my mind. Then I drove back to the hotel. I found a place to eat dinner. The next morning I drove the rental car to the airport. I returned the rental. Then got on a plane back. The end.
I only allowed myself to consider one tiny step at a time. I didn’t worry about returning my rental when I was still hailing a cab. And each of those steps – taken individually – are really pretty easy. Oh, except for getting back to the airport when I passed a sign that said, ‘Welcome to Iowa.’ But other than that. Easy. After all, I am not still in Iowa, am I?
So anyway, if you can break it down into the tiniest of pieces, each piece is something you can learn. Something you can handle. Like if you wanted to go skydiving, I would concentrate first on putting on your parachute. You learned to dress yourself when you were four; this is just one more little extension of that skill.
I will admit that learning new things is not always that easy, even when you are breaking down each little step. You have to actually jump out of the airplane.
Last year I tried to learn how to play the ukelele. My sister is a wonderful musician and she lent me a very good ukelele and I took online lessons. I watched those videos over and over again, playing the same beginning tunes. The videos were very good and the teacher was very good, and my playing was very bad.”This is Imagine,” I told my husband. “Really?” he replied.
After three months I gave the ukelele back to my sister.
My seven-year-old grand-nephew learned to play the violin this past summer. His grandmother (my talented sister) taught him – and he has musical genes on his father’s side too. After two months of lessons, this child played unbelievably well. He’s a natural.
So for his eighth birthday, this little boy asked for a ukelele. Not any ukulele. He saw one in a music store that was decorated with Grateful Dead designs. He wrote a fabulous note to his mother – describing this ‘gratfol ded yuculaly’ and that it was cool and smooth and for a yuculaly it was big so he could lean into it.
“Lean into it” – is there a better description for learning?
How could you not give this prodigy such a cool ukulele?
And guess what?
One week later he brought the ukulele to school and he played a Grateful Dead song for his class. And he sang.
And here is the difference between his ability to learn and mine.
He wanted to.
I did not.
My passion was superficial. His passion resides in his heart.
I am not saying that he is a good person and I am a bad person. Both our feelings are legitimate. There is no judgment here.
You don’t have to try everything.
But you can if you want to.
And you can stop if you want to.
That is the most important lesson about learning.
You can learn new things.
If you want to.
PS – If you would like to read my new novel, LUCINDA’S SOLUTION, Amazon is offering the Kindle version this week for 99 cents. Just click here.