Don’t Learn a New Skill — Revisit an Old One

Photo by Dragos Gontariu on Unsplash

When I was a junior in college, I decided to pick up the bass guitar. I had never played any type of guitar before, nor had I ever learned to read bass clef. My older brother was in a country rock band at the time, so I casually mentioned my plan during Winter break.

“Don’t do it,” he warned.

“Why not? It’s fun.”

“Your fingers are too small.”

What did that even matter? What did he know? Why would I even listen to him in the first place?

I bought a $300 beginner bass and convinced a friend to teach me. Once a week, he came up to my dorm room and went over the rudiments. In one semester, I learned one song.

Being a bad-ass female bassist was my dream. But I had grown up playing flute in symphonic band. I couldn’t quite grasp the needed groove. My musical mind longed to find a melody in all that rhythm. And, to be honest, my fingers were too small to really master the wide stretch from note to note.

Three years later, I ended up giving that bass away to a friend who already played guitar. Even after a year of paid lessons, I never really got it. My interest sputtered, and I gave up.

So here’s the thing — these days, everyone keeps talking about finding time to learn a new instrument or language — but, at this point, if you didn’t already have some interest in the skill, I don’t know if there’s much of a point.

You might invest a few hundred dollars, amuse yourself a few years, but in the end, you might just end up with another piece of dead equipment taking up garage space. Or worse, you might come to the conclusion that music and languages are just not your thing.

You might even end up believing that you are unable to learn something new.

That is the last thing I want for you.

I am in no way saying that learning music or languages is not worthwhile. Not at all. I’m not against music or languages. (In fact, I think they’re great!)

But I am against randomly picking an objective out of the air to stave off boredom.

Instead, imagine back to your childhood.

  • How did you spend your free time?
  • What were your favorite games?
  • What could you do for hours on end?

Think back to those times of play. Close your eyes if needed.

When I was 10 years old, I used to haul a big, boxy silver FM/AM radio to my top bunk. I would lie down on my stomach and tune in to the AM classical station. I would wander away into the music, picking out the different melodies and harmonies, trying to imagine which instruments were playing.

When I was 12, when Mom called for dinner time, she’d have to call me at least three times because my nose was buried in a book. I’d grudgingly walk to the kitchen table, stick one end of the book edge under my dinner plate and hold the other with an elbow while I stuffed food into my mouth. Eventually, Mom would insist I put the book away or threaten to take it if I didn’t join in for “family time.” Losing a book in the middle of the story was what I feared the most, so I would comply.

These were my passions as a child. So, as a 30-year old, when my boyfriend encouraged me to start playing my flute again, I thought he was a bit crazy. It had been years. I hesitated. I worried that I wouldn’t remember my music.

But I was wrong. Even though my fingers were a bit sore and I stumbled across more complicated note-combinations, I picked it right back up. Not only did I enjoy losing myself in a song, it also brought me back to my easier, care-free days when my biggest worry was deciding what book to read next.

And I don’t think it’s just true for me.

Our childhood often holds the key to which passions we should re-visit as adults.

The other day my sister posted an Instagram photo of a recent painting. She has been picking up her canvas and oils again. But she’s always enjoyed creating — even as a kid. From earrings to dream-catchers, her hands were always busy with some sort of crafty project.

And during a recent video-chat with my dad, he relayed to me, “Wait for Mom, she’s finishing her Spanish quiz.” For the past three years, my mom has been studying Spanish, and she’s gotten really good at it. But this isn’t a passing fad — she was also my first Spanish teacher, hanging post-it notes around the house for “mesa” and “cama”. She’s always wanted to learn Spanish, but she finally committed to be able to hold a conversation.

We can learn new skills, and when we truly tap into our passions, they come more easily.

Even me, after mastering an intermediate-level of Spanish, I’m finally introducing German to my lexicon. But my family’s part-German, and I used to work the local German Fest as a teenager, with my basic pronouncements of “prost” and “gesundheit”. There’s an interest rooted in the past.

And I’ll admit it. Sometimes I want to explore an off-the-wall hobby like the bass guitar. Just last year, for example, I tried learning some Mandarin because it’s one of the most-spoken languages. But, without a real vested interest, the few words I gained soon floated away in the midst of all the other necessary tasks.

Don’t add a new skill just to mark a box off the list.

Some of us don’t have any extra time. We feel like the day flies by without even having a moment for ourselves to just rest, let alone pick up a guitar.

But some of us find ourselves with more down time than we’re ready for and not quite sure how to fill it.

For those of you questioning what to do instead of binge-watch another Netflix series, think back to what filled your time as a kid.

Return to your old interests. Rekindle an old passion.

You’ll find the time well spent.

Born a Midwestern American, now a permanent Mexican resident. Outdoor adventurer, language enthusiast, and lover of classical music.

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