In April, I tried to Learn A New Language.
I learned that just learning something, anything, is one of the most fulfilling experiences I can think of. If I learn something in the morning, it can affect the entire trajectory of my day. And even if things aren’t going that great – if the family’s sick, or I’m busy at work, or an unforseen expense comes up – as long as I’ve learned something meaningful I’ll still have a bright spot in my day to look back on. And when you’re learning something completely foreign, the wins are big and usually arrive early, which helps to keep the momentum going.
In 2019 I learned HTML/CSS. Now I find myself listening to the freeCodeCamp Podcast and reading blog entries about “coding”, and yet still trying to figure out what my definition of “coding” actually is. I’m learning that, like most disciplines, it’s a rabbit hole that runs deep. And the question is, how far should I go?
I’ve always wanted to avoid becoming a certain type of person, and I didn’t realize there was a word for it until just a few years ago: dilettante. I cringe at the idea of stumbling through life with just enough superficial interest in a subject to impress a crowd at a cocktail party, all the while looking over my shoulder to make sure someone who actually knows what they’re talking about hasn’t walked into the room. It’s harmless I guess, but still – if that’s what I want to avoid then the question bears repeating: how far should I go? If I want to learn how to code, do I have to go deeper into computer science? Mathematics? Physics?
I posed the question to my brother recently, and his answer was really helpful. I shouldn’t focus on what I wanted to learn, but what I wanted to do with what I learned.
If I’m going to do better next year, I need to decide what I want to learn, but more importantly why I want to learn it.
In May, I tried to Be More Creative.
I decided to write a blog, and now here we are. I learned that writing is scary but it gets easier, that it’s work but I enjoy it. And I’ll always be trying to strike a balance between structure and freedom when it comes to my process. I learned that having no idea what I’m going to write and knowing exactly what I’m going to write are equally bad places to start.
I’ve also learned how to manage ideas. I used to worry about losing ideas, and I’ve got piles (digitally speaking) of unorganized spreadsheets and word documents to prove it. But as I’ve forced myself to write consistently, week after week, I’ve started to realize something: the good ideas don’t really leave me as long as I’ve given them some time to sink in.
It’s surprising how many times I’ve thought of an idea, returned to one of those word docs/spreadsheets to write it down, and found that I already thought of that idea a month ago. It might be a little more refined, but the bones are the same. So now when I get an idea, one of those big ideas that has me pacing around the condo in circles talking to myself, I try to take the following approach:
- First, I ask myself: is now a good time?
- If so, then I think about it. I don’t try to do anything else, I just think. I really try to explore it for as long as it can hold my attention, which can be a while. This is an incredibly fun, and in some ways addictive process. Then I let it go, and trust that it will come back up when I need it.
- If it’s not a good time, I schedule some time to think about it in the future, hopefully within the next 12 hours. Usually just a few words in a calendar reminder can get me right back to where I was, at a time where I can give the idea my full attention.
If I’m going to do better next year, I’m going to need to keep pushing myself. I don’t fear the process like I used to, and so I need to figure out how to get a little bit of that fear back, because that’s my compass – it’s how I know that I’m outside of my comfort zone.
In June, I tried to Be A Better Parent.
And I left hours and hours of voice memos for my kids. Towards the end of the year they felt more like therapy sessions for me than gifts for them.
The reason I started this was because I kept running into situations where I thought to myself, “my girls are so little that I can’t really tell them how I feel right now, and I really want them to know, so I’m going to leave this for them in the future.” I imagined them listening to it for the first time, maybe in middle school or high school, and having a nice little time capsule to remember the stuff they did and my perspective on it.
But after a while, I started picturing them listening to these when they were older, if they became parents themselves one day. I thought that, if they ever felt disoriented by the rollercoaster of ups and downs between unwavering confidence and crippling self-doubt that is “being a parent”, they might hear my words and the tone of my voice and be able to tell that, in that moment, I was going through they same thing. And that they’re not alone.
If I’m going to do better next year, I’m going to have to recognize that change is around the corner whether I like it or not. Next year everyone will be a year older (I keep rereading that sentence and thinking I should delete it because it’s pretty obvious). But the reality is that I will be dealing with two completely different girls in 2020, and I need to be ready for it.
I’m going to keep doing the voice memos though – who knows if they’ll ever need them in the future, but I need them now.