When we are young, we are novices at everything we do. Everything is new; everything is a challenge, and we learn fast. But it is tiring and frustrating time. As a child, being a novice makes us feel weak, it disempowers us, and saps of what little confidence we have. We yearn for the day when we are finally good at all the things we do, and no longer have to be beginners at anything. We want to be good at something, and we want others to see us this way. As a child, we see being a novice was bad, and we see being good at something as a way of gaining the respect of others.
As we get older, we still feel this way, yet we have become apt at many things, and perhaps even mastered a thing or two. We like not having to ask for help, but we feel pride when others ask our opinions of things that we are good at.
Because of this, our lives start becoming less interesting. We stop doing new things. We stop learning. We might not ask for help or advice as often as would benefit us. We get set in our ways, and our life-education slows and perhaps even grinds to a halt. We begin to follow the path of least resistance, doing what seems easy, and sometimes following the pack instead of striking out on our own. Don’t follow the pack.
There is no reason to stop the life-education process. We can continue to learn and grow and improve ourselves throughout our lives, if we put in the effort. As a result, our lives become more interesting and run more smoothly. There are so many wonderful things to do and subjects to learn in this world that the choices are endless. Maybe you want to learn a foreign language, play a musical instrument, become an actor, take up sailing, write a book, become a master naturalist, hike the Appalachian Trail, become a politician, scale massive cliff faces, or dive to the bottom of the ocean. It’s all within your reach.
But in order to learn something new we must become novices again, not like we were as children, but as adults. Now we have the confidence that comes with maturity, and we no longer need to feel disempowered by not knowing how to do something. As adults, we can learn quickly and efficiently by seeking out the best sources of the knowledge we want, then studying, and finally training.
When we step outside of our comfort zones and challenge ourselves, we improve ourselves. We learn, we grow stronger, we develop new and useful skills. Typically these new skills will have crossover-uses in areas of our lives that we never anticipated, only to be pleasantly surprised to find their utility. When we do all this, we not only improve ourselves, we and lift up the society around us and further our culture.
When we set goals and take on new challenges, we should do so with open and humble minds, ready to take in information from the best sources. We should not ever pretend to know more than we do in order to impress someone, or to avoid feeling foolish. We should approach the keepers of the knowledge with humility and a smile. They have the information, and we want it. We need to ask the right questions and then listen quietly and carefully to the answers, not interjecting our own anecdotes in order to try to seem like their peer. Practice the art of listening quietly and intently. Practice the art of asking the questions that will cause the other to supply the information we want. Rather than belittling us for our lack of knowledge, those who we wish to learn from will respect us for our direct approach in seeking to learn.
In addition to consulting people with knowledge on our target subject, we should also read. Anything can be learned from books (or the internet). If we really want to learn something, the first step is to look for the source of information and study it. Books are fantastic in that an author’s entire sum of knowledge can be learned in a short amount of time. A book might contain information that took a lifetime to gain. All that information can be yours in a few days. Of course, it is important to choose wisely the authors you read. Look for recommendations from other readers and from within books. Authors often mention, within their books, other books and authors that influenced them.
Use a notebook for taking notes while reading. When something seems important, or exemplifies something in particular that you want to know, write it down. And don’t just take notes, study them too. Remember how you did it in school? Use those skills now. If you really want to learn something, treat it like a college class. Think about how much effort and time you invested in a single class in school. Put that same effort into learning a new skill, and you will be amazed at the results.
Different authors can have different opinions and different ways of doing the same thing, so it is important to read from different authors. Look for themes common across books. When multiple authors say the same thing, it should be noted as important. When authors have different opinions, then you have options. But the things they all agree upon are things that should go in your notebook.
Also, as adult novices, we can seek out people who are masters at the thing we want to learn, identify them, and set up meetings where we can learn as much as possible from them. This knowledge we seek is valuable and well worth offering to buy lunch or paying for a lesson, through barter or cash. If there is a school that teaches the subject we wish to learn, then go. We are no longer children who despise school. Rather we are adults who crave the knowledge within the school. We want to be there and we should see it as a great opportunity.
After all this work of gaining knowledge, we are still novices and now need to get out in the real world and do it. The book-learning and school-learning is just the beginning. Now we must train to actually master our new subject or skill. Don’t be that person who invests money and time to learn something and then never does it. Go out and do it. This is sometimes the scariest part. But remember, this was the original goal. Get out there and do it. Whatever it is, make it a part of your life. You chose this new skill for a reason. You must now alter your habits so that you can fully accomplish your goal.
The final phase of stepping outside your comfort zone is the action. This is life, and you are now living life to its fullest. Don’t sit at home and continue doing what everyone else is doing, get out there and practice your new skill. Master it. Do it. Live it. And share it with others.