Learning new things can be fun, but also frustrating and frightening; especially when there seems to be very little room for error. From raking leaves, and building tables, to working with elementary school children, LGBT teens, and homeless adults, learning on the job is my job. So how do we replace pressure with productivity? How do we get from being wet behind the ears to being wise beyond our… (Y)ears? Well… I don’t know just yet, but I’m willing to learn on the blog.

Go & Grow (Sink Or Swim)

I remember visiting a public swimming pool with friends as a teenager, and being the only one there that didn’t know how to swim. Standing there in my swimming shorts at the edge of the pool watching all my friends have so much fun was difficult, and embarrassing. I was faced with the daunting task of learning something new on the spot; how to swim. Eventually the pressure peaked, and the next thing I knew, I was in the deep end dramatically trying to copy the arm and leg motion I associated with swimming. I held on to the wall for most of the time, but ultimately I had a blast; and more importantly I began learning how to swim; or at least how to survive.

In life I’ve adopted a similar attitude. Jumping in, and learning on the go is something that is necessary for growth. If we go for it, we will grow because of it. If I stand and stare at a mountain for long enough I’m sure I’ll convince myself to turn around. Instead I can begin to climb, even without necessarily knowing how I’ll make it to the top, and that will bring me much closer to my goal; obtaining more experience each step of the way.  Leaving me far more experienced than I’d ever be standing at ground level. Speaking of mountains, attached to the end of this blog is a video of Michael H. Samuelson Author, Adventurer, Lecturer speaking at the annual Business Innovation Factory in Rhode Island. Michael shares a few of meaningful life lessons, and transferable skills learned while climbing actual mountains. Very inspirational. I had the pleasure of attending this conference through a scholarship as a result of my willingness to jump in, and go!

Fostering Feedback & Even Failure

So one of the biggest inhibitors to attemting anything new, is the fear of failing. It’s paralyzing! Ironically failing is often a really positive and progressive experience if we view it from the right perspective. What do I mean by that? Well, it’s kind of like the process of elimination; the wrong answer will at least point you in the right direction. This is also known as Trial and Error. If we can humble ourselves, and be willing to learn from error, we will benefit greatly and likely succeed more frequently. The problem is often pride. Pride is what causes us to dismiss failure, instead of dissecting, and redirecting it. Some of us even remain stuck in a rut of what does not work, because we are too prideful to admit we got it wrong. The classic failure before success story is that of Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player to ever live being cut from his highschool basketball team. Another is the story of a young female artist on the come up getting boo’d at the legendary Apollo Theatre in Harlem during her performance… Her name is Lauryn Hill. In both of these cases, I think it’s safe to assume that MJ and Ms.Hill viewed “failure” objectively, processed it, learned from it, and applied what they learned.  Feedback particularly negative, or constructive criticism is challenging, very! It is also of enormous value. Learn how to foster feedback, and failure in order to fuel the fire.

The New Guy Mentality

The new guy is always extra excited, and eager to learn. The new guy is often humble and willing to go the extra mile. Sadly, the new guy mentality usually wears off over time, and when it does, continuous meaningful progress can become difficult to achieve. A good way to renew the New The Guy mentality is to take what you have become used to, and apply it to an unusual context. For example: I’ve been writing songs, and rapping for over 15 years, and have become quite comfortable as a lyricist, but in recent years I’ve stepped off the stage, and stepped into homeless shelters, NYC subway trains, and schools to rap. The thing that I do hasn’t changed but the setting has, the context has, the application has. I need to learn how to write, deliver, and even teach in a way that is relevent to each unique context, which causes me to grow, and ultimately become better at what I do. This not only benefits my craft, but my life overall, learning always does. So many life experiences offer transferable skills, and wisdom.  What is it that you do? How can you apply that thing in a new context, in order to expand, learn, and grow? The new guy as I mentioned earlier is usually, or at least hopefully, pretty humble. This is essential! Too often we become over confident, and this stunts our growth tremendously. Rekindle the new guy mentality by studying the masters. There’s always someone somewhere doing what we do on a higher level to some degree in one way or another. Although this can be intimidating, the trick is not to compare ourselves to others necessarily, but rather to humbly observe, analyze, glean, and learn from others. The new guy isn’t afraid to ask questions, to seek counsel, to study. “I thought I knew it all, untill I had to renew it all.”

Preparation, Prayer, Patience & Persistence

Preparation, prayer, patience & persistence are pivotal parts of proficiency, and productivity. In less poetic words, you need a plan to get it poppin’! When trying something new, frustration is inevitable, but this plan will keep us from giving up.

  • Preparation: As much as I am an advocate of going for it, I also need to stress that preparation is important. I recently decided to build three tables for my studio/office. Without preparing or seeking any counsel I bought some wood and got busy. In the end, I was confused, discouraged and angry because my excitement for the idea didn’t translate to stable tables. What I built wouldn’t stand at all, let alone the test of time. Thankfully, I decided to try again, but this time I planned to prepare by evaluating my errors, and finding a master builder to learn from. (Note how failing pointed me in the right direction.) The next day, I prepared by stocking up on all the supplies needed, and spending time sharing my idea with a master builder, asking questions and taking notes. Finally, the tables are up, they arent the greatest things ever built, but they’re serving their purpose well.
  • Prayer: Without prayer I would never be able to persevere in all of the things that I do. Prayer empowers me, and also provides peace admist the struggle of… Raking leaves & building tables. Prayer is paramount. Seeking counsel from the master of everything is always priority. The bible says that God has given us everything pertaining to life, and Godliness, and that all things are possible with God. Be encouraged!
  • Patience: Learning something new can take a long time, depending on your learning curve and what it is that you’re learning. I struggle with this more than anything else. Patience allows us to put things on pause and know that tomorrow we can try again. Patience softens the sting of todays failure, and points toward tomorrow’s success. Although I survived my swimming pool adventure that day as a crazy teenager; I actually didnt learn how to swim. I began to learn, I got aqauinted with the enviroment and elements of swimming, and I became encouraged to try again, and again until finally… I got it. We are always learning, everyday. Have patience, and know that progress is being made.
  • Persistence: If I resolve to shoot the basketball frequently throughout a game, the probability that I will score is high. (Assuming you’re not severely athletically challenged, in which case insert another anaology that applies.) If I miss a shot, and let that stop me from taking another, I certainly won’t ever score. Keep at it, keep going, persistently, consistently and intentionally. Go for it, and then go for it again! You got this.

Oh and by the way! The idea to write this blog came to me while raking leaves the other night for the very first time in my life. At the end of my “raking” (I don’t even know if that is the correct terminology) I stood proudly looking over the clear sidewalk, only to find a sea of leaves covering it the following morning.