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Saturday, January 29, 2011

day 26: dancing, surfing and learning to learn

"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few."
Shunryu Suzuki 

Some one recently called me "Good at being new". It was actually in jest on another subject, but I still took it as a compliment and it got my wheels spinning on the subject. Being new at something can be really challenging, and the attitude you choose to take in those first few steps can have a tremendous impact on how you take or don't take to a subject. I have several friends who can't give something more than one shot before deciding they don't like it or can't learn it, while I have others who aren't satisfied unless they're learning some thing that truly confounds them. I've always thought of myself as a good learner, but I've certainly had my lapses and they've taught me a few important things about learning.

Be ready to look silly and not care.
The thing people often have the most trouble with is failing in front of others. The more personal or vulnerable the subject, the greater the fear. Being a teacher and student of singing has shown this to me time and time again, and some of the best ways of dealing with it I've learned from those experiences. For instance, with younger children I will spend a whole lesson acting silly, making monkey sounds and elephant calls and generally horsing around so the child can see how silly we can really look in front of each other. Suddenly singing doesn't seem that out of place. With my older students I'll do something similar, but I'll also challenge them to gradually increase their ideal "fear audience". As in, who would you be somewhat comfortable singing for? Your cat? Great, put on a performance for your cat. The next week; Your family? Great, put on a show for your family. Your best friends? Great, etc, etc. After performing for their friends I ask them to go back and perform for their family again and they're often shocked about how much less silly or nervous they feel. By the time they can play for their friends and not bat an eyelash they're usually ready for the stage (or if I'm really feeling cruel, I ask them to sing in the middle of a food court). If you can find an opportunity to scare yourself a bit, great. Start small and work your way up to being truly vulnerable. Rome wasn't built in a day!

Have patience with yourself.
Learning isn't a race, it's one of the most important ways we can enrich our lives. Who says you need to learn at anyone's pace but your own? At the same time, there are well documented archetypes for learning, and in a lot of instances you are going to find yourself in a class or reading a book or getting a private lesson and the material is going to be presented in a way that really only serves one or two of those types. In instances where you have the opportunity, don't be shy about taking ownership of your lesson and asking for another way of hearing things explained. This happens all the time in lessons for me, but at least as a private lesson teacher I can always be monitoring to see how the information goes in and make adjustments when I see that flicker of confusion. In a larger class it can be challenging for a teacher to present in a way that's relevant to every learning archetype.

Enjoy the fact that there will always be some one better than you.
Don't just accept it, REVEL in it. If there's always going to be someone better at it, there will always be someone to learn from and some thing to learn. That's awesome. Some may not like the feeling like there's no roof on a topic, but it's almost always true. Try to appreciate the journey that that places before you. It's long and arduous, and always worth it.

Sucking at something is good.
A few years ago I tried surfing. Like, in the great lakes with a surf board, pretending the water isn't -5 because it's the back end of October. It was, by far, the hardest sport I have ever participated in. I had always been pretty naturally good at sports. I was never the best, and I didn't care, I didn't work for it, but I did like that I could basically adapt and excel at things I had never really done. Surfing was a rude awakening. On my first day, with perfect waves, I would be lucky if I had stood up once in the whole first hour we were there. I would paddle out, catch a good wave, go for the stand and tumble back in to the water. I was a little defeated that day, but it did teach me that some times you are actually going to, no excuses, suck at something. Take your slice of humble pie, go sit at your table and munch on it. Don't sulk, and don't feel sorry for yourself (those who know me know, it's a big for me to say "don't feel sorry for yourself"). It's not something to be ashamed of and in the end, you were getting too big for your britches anyway.

That's all for tonight. I've done a ton of dancing today and am exhausted. I'll have to come back tomorrow for edits. Night friends!

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