Learning from the basics

Last Saturday J- was running late, so W- offered to drive her to karate class. She asked if she could skip it and said that she wasn’t really learning anything. W- suggested that she might practise for her upcoming test. She said that she could do that in the backyard. W- pointed out that she could, but she hadn’t been doing so, which is why it was worth going to the class. Besides, there’s always more to learn.

This reminded me of another conversation I had with a friend of mine. She was frustrated because she considered the projects she got at work to be beneath her – simple testing work, when she’d already had experience managing teams. I said that there’s always more to learn, and besides, it’s a good opportunity to do something really, really well.

Life is full of situations where you’re doing something you think you know how to do well already. It’s easy to settle for being bored or frustrated. Digging deeper is harder but more rewarding. When you can find something to learn and improve each time around, you grow.

I do a lot of “basic” things as a consultant. I write HTML and CSS and Javascript. I write technical documentation and user documentation. I prepare and deliver training. I answer questions and walk people through how to use the system. Everything I do gives me an opportunity to learn how to do things better.

I go to a lot of meetups. Some talks focus on beginners. Instead of getting bored, I’m glad I have an opportunity to create and share good notes. There will always be more beginners than experts, so I’m glad to be able to help more people.

Here’s a quote from page 23 of the revised edition of Peter Drucker’s excellent book, The Effective Executive (2006; affiliate link):

To every practice applies what my old piano teacher said to me in exasperation when I was a small boy. “You will never play Mozart the way Arthur Schnabel does, but there is no reason in the world why you should not play your scales the way he does.” What the piano teacher forgot to add – probably because it was so obvious to her – is that even the great pianists could not play Mozart as they do unless they practiced their scales and kept on practising them.

Don’t waste those moments.

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