There’s always something to howl about

At Master something difficult in 2012.

My friend Richard Nikoley runs a popular paleo-living weblog called In anticipation of New Year’s Day and all its resolutions, I have a guest post up there on how to make 2012 a game-changing year in your life:

‘Tis the season for New Year’s Resolutions, and that’s a good thing. Join that book club. Remodel that kitchen. Lose that unwanted weight. But you can make this a landmark year of your life with just one resolution:

Resolve to master something difficult in 2012.

There is no shame in knowing how to say, “¿Dónde está el baño?,” but you are fluent in a foreign language when you can read and admire its poetry, when you get the jokes, when you can twist that language into clever witticisms. That’s mastery.

We are victims of Art Appreciation and Film Studies classes, glib-and-lazy time-wasters in which we learned nothing but how to pretend to know something. But there is no class called Geometry Appreciation. In the maths, you can either do the work or you can’t. This year you can pick up where you left off in math and push yourself as far as you can go.

And tell the truth: Every time you see a musician performing — popular music or classical — don’t you wish you could do that, too? The good news is, you can. All it takes is commitment and effort — and time.

Mastering a demanding new skill will take a while. The desire for instant results is how all New Year’s Resolutions get abandoned. But to learn a serious discipline will require your time every day — an hour or more a day of serious, dedicated effort. I like the idea of working every day, since, if you take no breaks from the work, you won’t have to resist the temptation to extend a break by one day and then another and another.

But the benefits to be realized are huge — far beyond anything you might be expecting. In Art Appreciation class, everyone participates in the group discussions, there are no right or wrong answers and the class is graded on the curve. That is, everyone, including the teacher, is wasting time on a pantomime of education.

But mastery of a truly difficult discipline can only be done alone. Your teacher can help, and, as always, we stand on the shoulders of giants. But it is only your brain, working all alone, that can distinguish educere from educare in Latin. Only you working alone can solve that quadratic equation — and prove your work. Even if you’re playing in an ensemble, the music will jar unless you yourself are competent to play your part.

You’ll be better for having improved your mind. But your mind will be improved for having learned something you may have overlooked in school: Only an individual mind can learn and master any branch of human knowledge. You’ll be a better scientist, a better mathematician, a better musician, a better linguist. But you’ll be a better person, too — more independent, more competent, more whole.


5 Comments so far

  1. Brian Brady December 29th, 2011 9:21 am

    One of my greatest regrets is not learning Spanish. My wife bought me lessons for Christmas 2006. The challenge was attending the classes regularly. Had I finished what I started, I would not only be fluent today but reading and writing blog posts in it.

    Can you imagine the audience we might reach, on, if some of the things you and Jim discuss, could be presented en Espanol?

  2. Greg Swann December 29th, 2011 10:10 am

    Este es su año, mi amigo.

  3. Sean Purcell December 29th, 2011 7:27 pm

    Inspiring post Greg, as usual. Brings to mind two comments:

    We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” I’m sure that reads even better in Aristotle’s Greek…

    The second comment is a bit more daunting: in athletics it’s said that one must repeat a specific movement 100 times before becoming fluent. But that movement is only one aspect of the whole. True mastery of the entirety occurs somewhere around the ten thousandth hour of purposeful practice.

    Thus, if our goal be mastery within our chosen fields: 100 transactions will give you fluency, but to become a Master agent or LO requires 40 hours per week of conscious learning, for 5 years. That is well within our grasp; but only if one begins the journey understanding exactly what you have just written.

    Is it any wonder so many begin the journey, but so few finish?

  4. Teyona December 29th, 2011 8:07 pm

    Oh my..I miss my Spanish lessons.. 🙁 The article is really interesting! Happy New Year everyone!

  5. Greg Swann December 31st, 2011 12:05 pm

    Here is my other big chore for 2012: I want to learn how to write songs. I’ve written a ton of lyric poetry over the years, so that part is easy — I can hope. I play the guitar well enough to qualify for any respectable garage band, and I’ve spent the past year focused on music theory. The trick for me now is to put everything together. I don’t know how far I can push this, but one idea I thought of was to make demo tracks available to aspiring singers. Plausibly, I can lay down everything I want in a multi-track recording, and the singer can mute my vocal and replace it with his/her own. The ideal distribution medium, from there, is YouTube. As with book publishing, the web makes everything new.