Learn a skill, change your life

via Creative Commons

I don’t know if it’s still true, but back when I was in first grade, handwriting was a big part of your academic success. Your handwriting grade was treated as predictive of your potential as a student. Now, I had terrible handwriting. I don’t know if it was a matter of manual dexterity or carelessness or what. This played into my sense of self-worth and my self-image of being less than intelligent. (This was no doubt exacerbated because my brother was ridiculously smart, and I was reminded of the contrast between us all the time.)

These days, I write on our group white board almost every morning. Yesterday, I was admiring the legibility of my writing and thought about, for the first time in many years, how bad I felt about my elementary school penmanship. I realized how fallacious it is to: a) equate something fairly superficial with something much more fundamental, and b) how easily we can address a gap in a skill.

My daughter gathers with her friends on a somewhat regular basis and they teach each other various skills, such as knitting or woodworking or other hobbies. To me, this is perfection. It shows caring and generosity and, most of all, the ability to learn and grow. What may have been an unknown quickly becomes a skill.

I do not accept people I care about saying, “I can’t…”: “I can’t dance”, “I can’t do math”, “I can’t speak a foreign language”. Our brains are magnificent, and we can learn to do about anything at any point in life. Even when it comes to physical abilities, you may not be able to do something — but you might! I can still remember when 5’7” Spud Webb won the NBA Slam Dunk competition. I don’t think anyone would have thought that was possible before he did it.

There has never been a better time to take on a challenge. My son-in-law wanted a particular job on a farm but he needed to get a NC Class C Driver’s License. (This is the license you would have to drive an 18-wheel truck.) He watched YouTube videos for weeks. He managed to borrow such a truck for a day. On the night before his scheduled test, he bought some trash cans from Wal-Mart and practiced various maneuvers for almost all the night. The next day, he passed.

One more example: In college, I took a journalism class. Though I was a decent writer, I didn’t know how to type. Because of this, I was at a huge disadvantage (since we used typewriters for our in-class tests), and I had to drop the class. So at the age of 22, I hauled myself over to a technical college twice-a-week and studied typing with what was almost exclusively a class or women working on secretarial degrees. That simple skill changed my life, as I have spent the past 35 years at the computer keyboard.

Anything you feel is a deficit, or any goal you want to reach can be accomplished. Let the obstacles in front of you become stepping stones to your goal.