Yesterday at lunch, I commented to a faculty member how impressed I was with his/her entree into video production of short lesson clips. Who knows what this kind of visual recording and representation could lead to – some great innovation in the future. Not to mention the postive effect it had for some other learners right then and there, in the moment. This person had made a mark to start (see The Dot, by Peter Reynolds). I was genuinely proud of the efforts and outcomes, and I had seen this person’s excitement earlier. After I named a few specifics, the faculty member said something like, “Thank you. But I can’t do it like [so-n-so] can.” Then, we talked about how so-n-so’s been making short video clips and screencasts for over a year. At that point the conversation turned to our children…about a very related issue.
My younger son, JT, thinks he should be able to do everything my older son, PJ, can do. The younger son is 2 1/2 years younger than the older. PJ has had a lot more practice running, scootering, playing video games, drawing, etc. I wish I could think of a convincing, “sticky” way to explain this to JT. If JT wants to make comparisons, which I wish he would’t, then he should compare himself today to PJ 2 1/2 years ago. We could compare (still wish we wouldn’t) PJ frozen in time at 4 years old, so that JT could make an apples-to-apples comparison. Even that, though, would hold its own margin of error and inaccuracies. They are two different people who have practiced different skills.
My lunch colleague has two children, and their family experience has been similar. The youngest wants to “advance artificially” to the level of the oldest. The less experienced makes an unfair comparison to the more experienced. We can understand that children do this, but why do we adults fall prey to such bad comparison practice? [Especially those of us who have read Mindset!]
If we want to use the inequality between the less and more experienced, we could do so just to mark a current reality and a future vision. We could set a goal of what proficiency and mastery look like at various levels of practice and development. Then we would know what a reasonable and fair target would be for a beginner at a new activity, an intermediate at a practiced activity, an advanced at a long-practiced activity. And there wouldn’t have to be a “100,” because the level of proficency and mastery may improve and grow in such a way that a ceiling cannot be artificially set. The ceiling could be broken just like the floor of the 4:00-minute mile was broken by Dr. Roger Bannister. When he did so, a “new possible” emerged, and a number of runners broke the previously sacred barrier in a matter of weeks and short months.
Maybe the most important thing is just to be in motion – to be trying new things and making the mark of current reality – even if one is a brand-new beginner – and setting a goal based on future vision. The gap between current reality and future vision can be frustrating and/or exciting. The distance one travels in the journey is called learning, I think.
We all start as beginners, and we can all can get better through feedback, support, determination, practice, and persistence. Ignore the voices that say we aren’t good enough yet. Pay more attention to the bright spots – what worked that I can do more of to improve. A strong fortress is built one brick at a time. One well-made brick on top of another. One bright spot on another. One successful attempt after thirteen failures and feeling what that success felt like…then reproducing it. It’s not about comparing ourselves to others. It’s about comparing ourselves to standards of future vision so that we can mark our growth and progress, like a child sometimes marks his growth over the years using a door frame and a pencil. But the first step is making a mark on that wall. Then one must grow to see a change in the height of the mark. And only relative to oneself.
It’s not about measuring apples and oranges. It’s about measuring apples to apples. It’s about learning.
What will be your next endeavor? What will you start from scratch? What do you want to get better at? What models of proficiency and mastery will you use? Will you unfairly compare yourself and get frustrated, or will you use another’s example as a future vision of what is possible with effort and practice? Will you maybe even ask them for help and how they got to their current level? Will you make a mark?
Our kids sure could use our good example. So could our colleagues.
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Learning is a journey as you say. In his books, The Teachings of Don Juan, Carlos Castaneda writes about the “journey.” While I don’t recall him referring to the journey as learning, it certainly is that. I don’t want to oversimplify a set of interesting and controversial books but I draw an analogy to your blog post because I was always struck by Don Juan’s reference to the journey–being attentive to what we experience in the present. We need to pay close attention or we could miss very important things that right in front of us. Seems to me that as “beginners” if we focus on the present and our desire to learn, we can block out the noise related to wanting to be an expert before we have done the work. The journey is about the work (learning) that helps us become an expert. Don Juan teaches his students to pay close attention to the present and enjoy the journey. Let’s help students and adults learn how to enjoy the journey of learning. Your blog post is a good start.