Here is something I love: learning new things
Here is something I hate: being bad at things
Unfortunately, for much of my life, my low tolerance for being bad at things really got in the way when I started something new. If I couldn’t jump rather quickly to competence, the experience of being really terrible at something undermined my enjoyment to such an extent that I would (more often than not) just give up. Both marriage and parenthood were good for me in this regard, because although I was not very good at either all the time and in every way (the way I hoped I would be) neither was I willing to quit on Jeff or the girls. And as I stuck it out—I got better. Not only that but I learned to love the process of getting better—I enjoyed reading parenting books, talking to folks I knew who had a talent for making healthy, happy marriages and families. I enjoyed trying out new ways of communicating, of parenting and partnering, figuring out the puzzle of what made our particular family work well.
Two decades into partnering and parenting, with the help of a lot of fabulous friends, a fantastic faith community, and a really great therapist, I have come to realize that there is great freedom (and fun) to be found in being really bad at things. I have figured out—DUH—that if I limit myself to the things I am good at, I will miss out on a lot of what life has to offer.
Now, there is nothing wrong with playing to one’s strengths. It’s just that I would never have taken up running or juggling or gardening or guitar, if I still required myself to be good at everything I do. And I would have missed out on a lot of JOY.
One thing I hate: missing out on JOY
I wouldn’t even be blogging this blog—after all, I let my first blog fizzle, and I still feel bummed that I wasn’t able to do a better job of The Grown-Up Gap Year. But I have found that anything worth doing is worth doing badly—and I have hope that maybe, just maybe, if I keep plugging away, I’ll get better along the way.
Anyway, my new Something New is learning Spanish. I have thought about learning Spanish plenty of times but I have always talked myself out of starting Spanish and into polishing my already pretty good French. It’s one of the horrors of perfectionism—right?—I could start Spanish but first I should really make my French perfect, then I’ll learn Spanish. All these years later (you guessed it) my French is still not perfect AND I have no Spanish.
Until a few months ago, that is. At the end of August, I realized that our long-planned trip to Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina was almost upon us, and that if I didn’t get to work, I wouldn’t even know the basics of Spanish for the trip. So I made a resolution to practice Spanish every day until we leave for Rio in mid-December. (yes, I know they speak Portuguese in Brazil, but I wasn’t going to try to learn two new languages at once, and Spanish seemed the more generally useful of the two….) I have used the internet, starting with Veggie Tales and adding in the podcast Coffee Break Spanish, an online library resource called Mango Languages, and Destinos, a telenovella created to teach beginning Spanish. Jeff and I have been finding Spanish language movies on Netflix for additional ear training. With all these great tools at my fingertips, I have been having a blast. I’m not great at it—but I am getting better every day.
And at this point in my life I have found that I love the experience of tangible, measurable progress enough to balance out the discomfort of being a beginner. When I get frustrated or feel stupid, I take a deep breath, and I imagine myself in Buenos Aires, able to understand and even join in simple conversations. Every night in bed, I think about the new words and phrases I am learning and I thank God for this new language, full of its own beauties, surprises and mysteries.
What about you, dear reader? Is there Something New in your life? Or is there something you’ve always wanted to learn, but just haven’t gotten started? I’d love to hear…