Friday, January 27, 2006


Existential Friday: lessons

How many of you, like me, whined your way out of piano lessons as a 7-year old only to get all regretful as a grownup about how neat it would be to know how to play the piano?

Feel free to substitute lessons in any sort of skill for "piano" in the above question. The key point is that one of the primary ways that "youth is wasted on the young" is kids' resistance to acquiring skills that might give them joy or satisfaction as adults.

What could be more paradoxical? Kids are ideally situated for lessons, having not only the time, but also the forming, growing brain that allows them to soak up skills training. Yet don't they resist lessons, fail to practice? Aren't they constitutionally, developmentally unable to comprehend the trade-off of present wants and feelings for the promise of long-term beneifts?

And when the lessons seem to stick, how often is it that kids decide, as they reach their teens or 20s and gain autonomy and become able to distinguish their own desires from their parents' desires for them, that they really don't like doing that thing any more-- playing soccer or violin or whatever -- and let it drop?

Then there's the other piece of the paradox: now that I'm older, and I know what I like, and I have the discipline to practice, my ability to learn and soak up skills and knowledge is all stiff and shrunken compared to the supple and expansive learning capability of kids. What the f*ck!

Here's what I would do for lessons if I could:

1. Sports: ice hockey, hitting a baseball
2. Languages: French, Spanish, German and modern Hebrew. Oh, heck, and Yiddish.
3. Music: electric guitar and voice.
4. Hobbies: sailing, photography, desktop publishing and graphic design, web design, drawing, ballroom dancing
5. Work related: cool classroom technology
6. Other: self defense, screenwriting

And here's the kicker: Part of me believes that I can still take lessons and gain proficiency in many or most of these things. Oh, yeah, and I also "plan" to write a novel.

I have a very flexible job, good health and no kids. And yet if I can make serious inroads toward basic proficiency in even one or two of those things, I'd be doing pretty well. You can say that the desire to learn new skills, and the optimism to believe that you can do that, is proof that you're still alive. On the other hand, doesn't Buddha say that desire is the source of all unhappiness?

Are you taking lessons, or planning to? In what? If you have kids, do you channel your own desire to learn into lessons for your kids? How bittersweet is that? At the risk of saying "Harry Potter," I have to say that my theory about why so many adults like Harry Potter is because it resonates with that unfulfilled desire for lessons. Skills are a sort of wizardry, aren't they?

I was once told by my guru that the Sanskrit term as Buddha used it, "desire" means wanting the moment to be any other than what it is. As he says, "The recipe for happiness is to accept completely whatever comes and don't care about what doesn't."
Just "B"
I'm learning how to sail. I encourage you to, as well. It's not easy, but it's doable (especially once you get over the sea sickness). You just have to remember that, as my sailing instructor tells me, "sailing gives you infinite opportunities to make a fool of yourself in public." So far, I'm totally proving him right.
I would say YES to new skills (however, currently the thought of learning a new technology because I can't put a road band together is rather daunting). But keep this factoid in mind:

Someone or some group did a study of pianists at Julliard. They found that being a "world class" performer and just a "really good performer" was strongly coupled to the number of hours the pianist spent practicing. The number of hours, by the way, is 10,000.

So, if you practiced 8 hours a day for 5 years (excluding weekends), you'd be a "world class" pianist. I have expanded this concept to say that to become a Master at a skill, you need to put in 10,000 hours; or full-time for 5 years. (and you can be highly skilled after 5,000 hours)

This is why it's "hard" for adults to pick up new skills - it takes us a long time to get those 10,000 hours in.

However, it takes much less time to pick up a skill that you have "dropped" -- it took me 3 months to get back to my "personal best" at the cello after letting it sit idle for 25 years. And when I practice NOW, I have much better focus and determination - I have an actual goal that I can shoot for, and I've learned the skills about achieving goals (more from my working as an adult rather than anything I managecd to pick up from school).
I just took a piano class at a community college after years of saying I was going to. The class wasn't that great, but it gave me enough structure to do a lot of self-training. Oh, buying a piano finally helped a lot, too.

I'm also signing up for a hitting (baseball) training program to prep for the season. I don't think my lifetime .146 batting average with the Madtown M's will get me anywhere here onve try-outs begin!
I don't participate in Patter phenomenon, so can't say anything about that, but I did teach myself html and some things about webdesign as an adult- I would say that is very do-able.
Piano depends on the goal- adults can benefit from lessons if they just want some persoanl satisfaction instead of public recognition, and that probably applies to a large number of the things you take lessons for.

Some things have to fall under the category of diminishing returns: athletic ability fail for even the pros as they grow older, but hey! we could all have fun dancing in some way, right?

Maybe your post on lessons has more to do with the harsh reality of growing older and the reduced potentials we often face.

Which anyone who knows about focus can be be deemed a good thing;)
I was a pretty dorky kid, and actually craved lessons in all the things I still want to do. I wanted to learn piano so bad, along with ballet, violin, sign language, and a myriad other things. My mom didn't have the money to give me lessons, and just told me no.

My high school offered piano classes, much the same way that choir and band are offered, and I took three years of it. I'm hoping that I can still take ballet and learn sign language at some point as well.
Lessons imply that you work with a teacher in a structured setting. I get impatient with that. Glue yourself to people who do things well and let their skill rub off.

I love trying new things. Love it so much that one can say, with rare exceptions, I never get good at any one thing.

So the questin for you is this: do you want to get better at something or enter something as a novice? The answer will says mountains about your personality, don't you think? Are you a restless type? Or do you want to get to some level of greatness before you kick that tinny bucket over? Or both?
I used to really berate myself for not being great or "the best" at things, and that judgmental part of me stopped me from trying new things. When I finally got into my head that only a few people can ever be the "best", I relaxed and started perusing my interests. As an adult I've taken Italian classes, ballet lessons, creative workshops, got a part in an independent film, etc... I'm really not bragging, just explaining that even though I had to learn these things as an adult, and I know I will never be a master at any of them, I enjoyed jumping in and experiencing the joy those "hobbies" or "skills" bring. But, god, do I hear you! I wish I was fluent in French, and could sit down at any piano and play a nice song. *sigh* Oh well. As the French would say, "C'est la vive."
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