Can you teach an old dog new tricks?

Teaching old dogs, learning new skills, learn blogging

The Revelation

I’m sitting on the couch with my then-boyfriend on New Year’s Eve. We are with his mother a petite and loving woman who I respect and trust. Someone mentions my eighteenth birthday which is about a week away and right then, I get smacked with a realization: I have no life plan.

People considered me artistic because all creative stuff was easy for me. Classmates said my name in the same sentence with “famous artist” a lot. But no one hands you the playbook. No one had the slimmest notion of how an artist becomes famous.

When the strobing Times Square ball drops, I feel rising panic during the countdown. The spectacular landing has everyone whooping “Happy New Year!”

I explode in tears.

“What’s wrong?” his mother asks.

“I’m graduating this year and I don’t know what I’m going to do with my life!”

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing you can do is keep your mind young.” ~Mark Twain

Today, sitting in the bright afternoon of a beautiful day, I think back to that younger me. No one ever asked me if I wanted to be an artist. It was tacked onto me early in life until it became the rote answer. What’s really funny? That wasn’t what I spent my free time doing. I spent it writing. At that time, not much about life made sense to me and I lacked any sense of purpose. I had no clear vision for my life. The person who led me to my true calling was not yet born and would not arrive until my late 20’s. It would be 13 more years until my purpose crystallized. I would, however, continue closet writing.

Like many kids her age, my daughter became involved in cyberhoods like Facebook, Myspace and online journaling. It was all new and confusing. Curiously, I wanted to learn more. What do people write on a web log? She helped me set up a blog and it sat forgotten for two years. My daughter found a writing group. I went once and was hooked. When I (re) discovered my true passion–writing–life started making sense.

I developed plans. (Learn how to be a great writer.) I had a goal. (Get published.) I developed layers and evolutions of plans. Who knew the computer age would make so much sense to me? But, that very thing, casting words into The Net through blogging, fueled the next phase.

What’s next for you?

It’s never too late to start learning. Consider your own life. What abilities do you possess? What abilities do you want to acquire? Each new skill lays the groundwork for learning another. By seeking out people who can teach us what we need to learn, it’s possible to learn more very quickly. It might not seem like much forward progress. Then one day it opens the door for an unexpected opportunity. Those opportunities can change our lives.

When I learned to type, (not pecking but real typing) it opened the ability to jot down ideas while observing, being a transcriptionist (it pays!) and not hunting letters on my keyboard. The ability to type means faster transition from idea to intellectual property. (Writing books, stories, blog posts, white papers, case studies.) All the abilities I’ve learned over the last 10 years (how to blog, tweet, chat and Uber conference) I now use in my work life. These were not available the day I graduated from high school, but I determined to keep reading and educating myself.

What if I had believed that old adage, You can’t teach an old dog new tricks? 

The key to a fuller life, discovering your potential is being curious and the desire to keep learning. What is it that you’ve always wanted to know? Always wanted to try? Today, make a quick list of items. Have you always wanted to paint? Write? Wanted to take up kayaking? Photography? Who knows what magic awaits by just taking the first step.

Share your list with us. We’ll encourage you and cheer you on!

What a dull knife taught me

An acquaintance of mine once found herself in a jam and needed to chop a bushel of tomatoes for a sandwich wagon she would run the next day at an art show. I wanted to help out and offered to chop the tomatoes.

“Show me your knife.”

I pulled it from a drawer. She seemed satisfied enough that it was separated from other implements of destruction. She produced a tomato and asked me to cut it. I pressed the blade to the tomato skin.

I drew it across the skin where it bunched, squashing through the locular cavity. Juice squirted out and seeds dislodged from their placenta. In short, I ripped it with a very dull knife. I’d had the knife a few years and it never occurred to me to sharpen it. With this knife, I’d have better luck making tomato sauce.

“I’ll be right back.” She left through the front door and in her absence I experienced intense tomato shame. What could I do with this poor tomato? Did she want it back? Should I throw it away? Should I keep it? Is a ruined tomato edible? (Yes it is, with salt & pepper, please.) She returned only moments later with a different kind of knife.“Try this.”

I had just started to lay the blade on the skin and it basically fell through the tomato, cutting it so cleanly that I gasped. She laughed and told me when she would be back for them. I couldn’t get over how little effort it took to chop those tomatoes. It didn’t occur to me that I’d been struggling until I wasn’t.

That became a life lesson not only about keeping blades sharp but taking care of “my tools” whatever they might be.  This same lesson informed my decision to get a better word program when my writing became more serious.

Are you trying to accomplish something right now using a dull tool? If you can’t find a way to sharpen it you might need to replace it. The time wasted trying to make it work will be better spent elsewhere.

Do you have a “Dull Knife” story? I’d love to hear from you. Thanks for coming by today. I hope to see you next time.