6 years ago I went on a date once with a lovely girl. It was a blind date with a cousin of a university friend and we went to a patio for a few drinks. During the evening we chatted about many things and, after she told me that she had taken a lot of dance classes when she was younger, I mentioned that I had been considering taking ballroom dancing lessons. I had been, so it seemed like a good chance to set up for a second date.
When I said it she immediately said that I shouldn’t do it. When I asked why, she said “at this age, it isn’t fun being that bad at anything. You are going to be horrible because it’s new, so why bother?”
That statement stuck with me more than she did because there wasn’t a second date.
It is, of course, incorrect as it applies to me. Yeah, I suck at most new things, and yes, it is horrible to be that bad at anything. She was wrong because she was saying I shouldn’t do these things because I would be bad at them. To me, you try something new because it may be fun and if it is, you’ll stick with it and improve. It’s the doing of the thing that is important.
Her attitude also took out of play the enjoyment or pleasure you will get from actually improving at a specific task. I think this is the more tragic aspect of her comment. Learning can be fun if you like what you are learning but the act of learning is also very rewarding. Think about the last time you had something difficult to learn, blogging software perhaps. Do you recall the moment you finally got it and what that moment felt like? Many people refer to these moments as epiphanies and there is usually a sense of well-being associated with them. For me, the moment of getting something that I’ve been trying to learn is a good moment, it feels good.
It doesn’t really matter what it is, I feel good when I get it. I’ve had a bunch of different and seemingly random jobs, but all of them share two things in common, a chance to learn and a chance to improve. My ability to load bundles of Roxul insulation into a trailer may never be tested again in my life, but it was a rewarding skill to acquire – you’d be surprised the number of ways you can load a truck wrong, but each small improvement was accompanied by a small reward. Challenging employees is one of the key components to keeping them highly engaged because it creates a self-reinforcing environment for the worker. Once you stop learning, if you do not find the task enjoyable, you will soon stop performing the task.
I know with certainty that if I took up ball room dancing, it would have been challenging and I wouldn’t have been very good at it. But I would have practiced and I believe that I would have improved; others have learned how to do it so there’s a good chance that I could learn too. And I know with equal certainty that I would have found the learning to be rewarding because that is what motivates us to keep learning.
Maybe one day I will try ball room dancing and I’ll know for sure what it is like to be that bad at something. If she was right, it will be harder today than it would have been 6 years ago. If she’s wrong, I’ll find the activity enjoyable.