I like to think one of my most important strengths is the ability to teach myself just about anything. I’ve taught myself how to program, how to cook, how to build, how to write, and how to run a half marathon. And I know I could teach myself whatever else I wanted to learn.
Of course, we live in a wonderful time to be able to find the resources we need to teach ourselves. We all know about the internet and the vast potential of resources it brings to our fingertips. But I’ve done some reflecting recently on why I’m able to teach myself new skills. It probably doesn’t hurt that I’m an educator by trade, but it’s something more than that. It’s an ability I stumbled across only recently.
I’ve had a guitar sitting in my apartment for years that I stole from my sister forever ago, and late last year, I decided to learn to play it so I could finally stop explaining to people that it was just for show. So I fired up the good ol’ internet, Googled a tutorial on one of my favourite songs of all time, and got to work.
Guitar is hard. When you’re teaching yourself something new, there’s a very loud, very persistent voice in your head that goes, “This is fucking rough, dude. Stop. You’re really bad.” The first few times I tried to strum, I couldn’t hit more than a few strings without it sounding like a horrendous mess. Kind of like if you were to drop a piano on a cat.
And yet even with all that racket, I could still hear that nasty little voice shouting, “give up, this is stupid. Go back and anaesthetize yourself with Netflix. You can’t strum worth shit. You’ll never be able to strum.”
This little voice is the key to being able to teach yourself anything you want. Don’t just seek to prove this little voice wrong: be relentless about it. Don’t just strum until you think maybe you can strum: Strum until that little voice cannot possibly be heard over the sweet melodic sounds of a G chord. Strum until that voice shuts the hell up, and don’t ever stop until it does.
This is where most people falter, because being relentless is more than just working hard. It’s working hard towards the right goal. Go ahead and concede the voice is right about your ability to strum. Put hours and hours into learning how to read tabs or how to transition between chords instead. But if that voice is still screaming, “But remember, dummy: You can’t even strum!” while you do it, guess what? You’re going to fail.
Relentlessly chase that voice and silence it. Don’t run from it, because it’ll always be right on your heels telling you exactly what you need to practice most. Whether you have a voice telling you that you can’t write anything worth reading, or kick a soccer ball with your laces, or bench your body weight, or do even a single sit up, or cook a decent salmon steak, or paint a lifelike mouth, or roll those Spanish R sounds, or master the basic salsa step, or go even a day without a cigarette:
Listen for that voice and relentlessly seek to prove it wrong.
Dexter McMillan is an EA with the West Vancouver School District, working mostly with high school students with autism using Applied Behaviour Analysis. If you found this article helpful please hit the green heart to recommend it :).