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How do you learn new things as an adult?

When was the last time you learnt something new?

When I was a teenager, I didn’t think that as an adult I should be learning new things. There even seemed to be a kind of shame in learning something new past your mid-twenties.

I can still replay every detail of a tap-dancing trial lesson I took years ago. As an adult, I somehow believed that I would just be able to pick up this new skill easily. After all, I’d been through years of school, passed my final exams and been accepted onto a University program.

I had learnt how to learn things. Now, as fully-grown humans, all we have to do is decide we want to do something and we can do it, right?

By the end of the lesson,  I had tears welling up in my eyes from frustration. I had to go and hide in the bathroom to calm down. If I’d been a two year old, I would have rolled around on the floor and had a tantrum.

Over the years, I’ve gone through the same process with knitting, sewing, making bread, short story writing, playing the saxophone and speaking Italian. I get excited, I start and struggle, I quit.

Everything changed when I trained to be a teacher. The English teacher training PGCE course is brutal. There are so many moments of frustration, panic and feeling overwhelmed but you just have to get on with it. After the first few months, I noticed that teaching was starting to feel easier. I was learning! 

Since then, I’ve worked hard to change how I think about learning new things. It’s also helped me that I’ve been able to watch how my students learn. They go through a process of improving slowly, often impreceptibly. I could see how they were learning and gaining confidence but they often couldn’t. I realised that each time they hit a wall, they had to keep going and try something different. I saw that it really helped them if they could focus on the process and enjoy that, rather than fixating on achieving the result.

And it clicked…ADULTS LEARN EXACTLY THE SAME WAY! And we can keep learning! Why not?! I’d thought that it was embarassing to admit that you were learning something new as a grown-up. But when I really broke it down, I understood that it was only silly pride that made me think that learning something new as an adult was admitting failure. As if it was saying that I hadn’t accomplished enough or that I didn’t know myself well enough.

So, this year I’ve been trying to learn as many new things as I can. I’ve learned how to transcribe audio files, teach French to Primary school students, make curry, read about behavioural economics, and navigate the French tax system

My favourite ‘keep learning’ skill, however, is Photoshop. As I mentioned last week,  I followed the incredible Tasty Tuts ‘Beginner’s Photoshop’ tutorial on Youtube, which showed me how to use the basic tools. Since then I’ve been addicted. I spend the whole day working as quickly as I can so that I can spend some time in the evenings playing around on Photoshop. I feel like I’ve found my version of ‘journaling’ or sketching every day.

Following the wise advice of Austin Kleon, now I want to start showing my work. So here you go- all the images in this article are some examples of what I’ve been making on Photoshop.

What do you think? You can be honest, I’m going to keep learning either way.

All images are mine! #showyourwork

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