When was the last time you learned something new? I mean something completely new, where you started as a novice?
If you’re like most Americans, the last time was when you were in school.
Have you noticed that we expect children to learn and grow? We enroll them in sports because they need to learn teamwork. We make them take piano lessons because we had to. When they complain about subjects at school, we tell them that it’s their job to learn.
But once we become adults, it seems like the need to learn and grow no longer applies. Most adults simply won’t put themselves in situations where they are novices.
Yet putting yourself in this uncomfortable place is a path to a much more engaged life and spiritual journey. Stick with me, and I’ll tell you why.
Keep your ego happy by avoiding learning!
A lot of us avoid having to learn new skills. There are many reasons for this, I think, but really only one matters. We so deeply believe that our value is tied directly to our performance that we will avoid doing anything we can’t do well.
It’s understandable. Being a novice can really be painful. I know.
This past sunday was a day of dread for me. It was another stab at the IRT, the Oregon Intermediate Rider Training course, that could qualify me for my motorcycle endorsement.
Two months ago I wrote about the last time I took the class. I experienced profound test anxiety and failed the exam. If I wanted to get my endorsement, that meant another outlay of cash and another day to take the course again. It also meant facing the test one more time.
This day on the range was the least fun I’ve had so far. With three failures behind me I was second-guessing myself on every curve. After four hours on the range, it was time for the exam. My gut was all twisty with anxiety and I had a headache.
The first test event was the one that’s done me in every time. Seconds after I left the line, I knew I’d blown it. Every time I’d practiced it, I’d done it in 2nd gear, but this time I stayed in first. It felt completely different. I felt choppy, loose. I felt like I massacred every single cone. By the time I got back to the starting line, I just knew I’d failed again–with 4 more exercises left to go.
At the close of the day the instructors call the students up for a private one-on-one consult. They tell you if you passed or not, and what skills you need to work on. I was the next-to-last person called up. I sat on the curb, the weight of failure piling heavier and heavier on me, as each name was called.
I already knew I had failed, so when the instructor congratulated me and told me I’d be getting my completion card in the mail, I was shocked. I honestly didn’t hear another word he said. I was completely surprised.
Invest in being a novice and you will grow.
This has been a big deal for me.
I started this process almost two years ago. I took the Basic Rider Training once, took the Intermediate Rider Training twice, and tested a total of 4 times. I invested almost $500 in fees to take the classes, 31 hours over 3 weekends away from my family, and many practice hours in between.
Why invest so much? This is the first time in years that I’ve put myself in the position of being a novice.
Instead of teaching, I was being taught. Instead of operating from a position of strength, I was profoundly aware of my weakness.
Maybe that sounds painful. In many ways it was. But it’s also been exhilarating.
I’d like to suggest that being a novice somewhere in your life is vitally important.
Why? Here’s four reasons.
1. Bailing on Your Comfort Zone.
You were made to be constantly learning and growing. We imagine that living in the zone where we have everything mastered and no unanswered questions will be wonderful and peaceful. In truth, it’s stagnant. Your creativity erodes. Your sense of vision fades.
2. Building Trust and Faith.
When your life is constructed in such a way that you only ever do the things you’re good at, it’s easy to start believing that you really are in control of your life. In our tiny little constructed safe worlds, depending on others or on God feels unnecessary.
3. Learning Who You really are.
Being tested reveals important things about who we are. Perhaps it’s not a literal test like I took. Perhaps it’s facing the difficulty of a problem you can’t solve with the skills you have. In those moments, what happens in your heart and gut is incredibly instructive.
The testing anxiety that arose for me reminded me of how much my sense of value is still tied to my personal performance. It was a new opportunity to live in the truth, and give God access to this dark corner of my heart.
4. Developing Your Character.
One of my lifetime parenting highlights happened as a result of this long rocky journey. I got to sit down with my kids over a hamburger and milkshake at Mike’s Drive In and tell them the story of my motorcycle endorsement. Making a goal. Trying something hard. Failing. Trying again. Failing. Trying again. Feeling really horrible about the whole thing, and trying again anyway.
I want my children to have courage and resiliance in pursuing their goals. But they need to see that in me. Stepping out of my comfort zone, becoming a novice, trying again even when it felt horrible—these are all things I couldn’t preach about to them. They were things I had to do. Things I had to face. I’m better for it, and that’s something I got to share with my kids.
In my next post I’m going to share some important life lessons I learned on the motorcycle range, but today I want to encourage you to become a novice. If you’re life feels dry and disengaged, maybe it’s because you’ve stopped pursuing growth. If your spiritual life seems obligatory and empty, maybe it’s because you’ve given up learning.
It’s time for you to step into your learning zone. (Which, if you’re not clear on this point, means stepping out of your comfort zone.)