The kids have been begging to play tennis lately — on an actual court and not our driveway or in the middle of the street. Yesterday, we obliged their request to hold serve like civilized folk and drove over to a local tennis court.
“We’re going to volley,” I said.
First swing, my son cracks the green Wilson tennis ball straight over the fence for a round-the-bases homerun into a row of arborvitaes.
“You gotta get that.”
“Alright, let’s try this again. We’re volleying. The point is to hit the ball back to each other. We’re not trying to score a point or hit it as hard as we can. Tennis isn’t baseball.”
Learning new things is hard
Learning is an innate part of human development, a never-ending process that extends beyond our early years. As children, we learn new things almost every day, absorbing new information and skills almost effortlessly.
“Expanding our horizons,” as the teachers say in skoo.
As we grow older, our focus shifts towards honing the abilities we’ve already acquired, gravitating towards familiarity and comfort.
Over the years, we’ve learned to polish a tool we have at the ready more than we’d like to admit: avoidance.
We purposely do the things we enjoy or have the skillsets for, all the while avoiding, as much as humanly possible, the things we dislike or don’t feel we’re competent in doing.
While this is natural, embracing lifelong learning has the ability to enrich our lives, reopening the can of worms known as childlike curiosity.
Stepping outside our comfort zones
Comfort zones can be alluring, offering a sense of security and familiarity — and we humans love our comfort zones. But stepping outside your cozy cocoon is where the magic happens.
Acquiring the knowledge and skillset for something new is akin to peeling back the layers of an onion only to find a clown’s nose at the core with a note attached that says, “Wear this.”
That you’ll stumble and fall is inevitable. Embrace the stumble and bumble. They’re the moments that make for the best stories later on.
Read: How Not to Fish
Until you know how to do the task at hand, it may involve you looking like a complete fool, but that’s half the fun.
As G.I. Joe reminded millions of boys in America in the 1980s at the end of every episode, “And knowing is half the battle.”
Find joy in the ridiculousness of the journey from newbie to intermediate to, perhaps one day, advanced.
What’s something you excel at doing now? It could be a sport or a hobby or a professional skillset. Were you the Michael Jordan of this activity on Day One? Of course not.
For me, I think of basketball. Before I was even halfway decent, before I could dunk, I had to lay the ball up off the glass like everyone. And what happened? Well, like every kid at some point in their lives, I hit the underside of the iron with the ball and got smacked right dab in the kisser.
And dribbling a basketball between my legs? Yeah, that’s easy now and has been for a while. I can do it with my eyes closed. But do you know how many times I ricocheted that bouncy orange globe off my family jewels when I was nine and ten years old?
I feel like I need an icepack thinking about it now. I’m surprised I had viable tadpoles to conceive later in life.
Embrace the joy of being gloriously, hilariously imperfect
Acquiring knowledge and new skills is great. It makes you feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside.
“Look at me. I’m good at something.”
But learning new things isn’t about excelling from the jump. It’s about embracing the joy of being gloriously, hilariously imperfect. It’s about embracing failure, repeatedly, and learning from it.
Learning connects you with you, and others, who have been down the path before you.
It’s easier for me to play tennis than my kids because I learned how to play tennis years ago. I’m no tennis pro, but forehand, backhand, it’s like riding a bike in terms of muscle memory.
But ask me to do one of the following:
- Create arts and crafts of any kind,
- Grill a steak without turning it into a piece of leather, or
- Dribble a soccer ball up the field without my son or daughter nabbing it from me
And I’ll feel as ham-handed as they do playing tennis at this stage in their lives on a regulation court.
With practice, they’ll get better. They may even smoke me one day. My knees aren’t what they used to be.
Until then, as I tell them, it’s about embracing the discomfort in learning.
Whacking the tennis ball clear over the fence into the horizon (or a row of arborvitae) is a metaphor for broadening your perspective — almost a literal representation.
Wow, look at that ball fly clear out of sight.
Now go get it 🙂
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