In my recent post about learning to ski with a back-country professional, I made a joke about teaching an old dog new tricks. While it was mostly a poke at my age and my lack of skiing experience having grown up in Colorado, there is a lot of truth to the way that this mindset affects people trying to learn a new skill.
When we want to learn something new, getting lessons from a master (or even someone who has a bit more experience than we do) can save us a heck of a lot of time, teach us the skills we need to stay safe, and give us the techniques we need to look good doing it!
I’ve identified these three reasons as the most important for taking lessons when learning a new skill: Speed, Safety, and Style.
Think about this: humans have developed skills and knowledge over thousands upon thousands of years. These lineages of knowledge are passed down from generation to generation. What would happen if farmers had to relearn farming with each new generation? We’d probably be in a more severe food crisis than we are right now. What if doctors had to relearn our medical knowledge with each new generation of doctors? You catch my drift. With this knowledge being passed down from an elder, a master, or a practitioner, we save so much time and learn so much faster than we would on our own. Plus, we have someone to give feedback so that we don’t develop bad habits that can make learning a skill even harder.
For example: there’s some really good footage out there of me trying to do a stand-still turn-around on a slope, falling on my butt, and continuing to fall again and again because I kept putting my skis facing downhill. I was literally just sliding and flailing around.
As I was laughing and falling on my butt, my mentor was there with me, telling me to “put your skis perpendicular to the fall line – across the hill! THEN try to get up!” Sure enough, I was up again on my feet and was soon making complete turns.
When I learned to rock climb, I went out with guides first. It was important to me to learn from a master in this sport because of the dangers of messing up. My first outdoor climbing experience was an easy 5.4, which is basically a steep ramp with decent hand-holds. But before my climbing guide let us on the wall, we had to master the figure-eight knot, properly secure our harness, and show him that we could belay correctly.
Later, when I wanted to learn how to do top-rope climbing on my own, I spent time at some clinics led by a local guiding company to make sure that I knew all the ins and outs of setting up a proper, secure anchor. If it weren’t for these guides, I would never feel comfortable going climbing on my own. With something like the unbroken-ness of my back and skull, I just don’t want to take any chances!
Often when practicing a new skill, we learn the very basics to start, then gradually compile more complex knowledge thereafter. With someone to guide us through, we are introduced to small bits of knowledge that can vastly affect the way we learn a new skill. For example, when Craig was teaching me about skiing, he introduced me to some techniques that vastly improved my agility even before I actually skied on a real slope. First, he taught me the herringbone, which is basically a trick of how to use our edges when skiing (it’s also an important skill to know when getting into back-country skiing). If he hadn’t shown me this little trick, I wouldn’t have been so inclined to use my edges when I fell down throughout the day, or to note the way I turned my skis when making turns on the slopes.
The value of a lesson is far beyond any monetary price. It provides an experience that can inspire. It can show us what is possible and put us on a track to success. It provides us with an experience to grow and to laugh at ourselves. A lesson is, in its own sense, a type of currency, that can time and time again bring value to our lives. As we use this currency by practicing our new skill, we also gain additional value by generating the possibility of passing that skill on to someone new. And there’s not many things more refreshing than encouraging someone to fall in love with something that you’ve also grown to love.
This is what it means to be human. And no dog is too old to learn. I believe, this is what keeps us young.