Getting Over the “Learning Stuff” Hurdle

“I would love to be in a band, but I don’t know how to play a guitar.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this kind of statement from a friend or an acquaintance. They want to eat homemade sourdough, but then they’d have to learn how to bake it. They’d love to visit Paris, but they hate airports. They want to learn to drive, but they really hate parking.

It’s really weird. I remember talking to my mother a couple of years ago about getting out of IT and getting into doing art for a living. I explained that I was tired of my job, and didn’t want to be in a situation where I had to interact with people on a daily basis. (No hate, I just don’t like feeling obligated to do so. We all deserve boundaries)

She was supportive, but dubious. “I just don’t want you to be sad if you fail,” she said.

“I’m not going to be. I’m sad now.”

“I just want you to have a backup plan in case it falls through.”

“I already know what it’s like to fail. That’s me now. I know what it’s like to not have an art career. That is literally my state of being, right now!”

In my opinion, you know what really sucks? Being called to give the results of an experiment that hasn’t concluded yet. This puts the would-be achiever on the defensive, and it’s everywhere. It’s a targeted, effective pinprick to a helium balloon. It’s a way of ensuring a predictable answer to a question that must be squelched at all costs.

I’m not putting my mom on blast. From her perspective, her questions are reasonable. All she is asking is if her child has planned for every conceivable outcome. And you know what? You might be asking yourself the same damn thing as you start your second career.

It is very hard to be a tall poppy, because it calls for more than just a decision to be better. It requires a consistent, ongoing defense against mild, usually well-meaning questioning by friends and acquaintances. You may find that you constantly have to explain yourself, which takes time and energy, and, depending on the person you’re speaking with, could also be exhausting. Because you’re not only embarking on a road less traveled, you’re also, apparently, an advocate for this path. And therein lies the subtlety:

  1. A person announces that they want to try a new thing.
  2. Other people ask them why they want to try this new thing and whether they’ve thought this through.
  3. The person spends so much time explaining the new thing, that they do not have time to consider how they might actually do the thing.

There is also the 2009 study which found that the more you talk about some goal of yours, the less likely it is that you’re going to achieve that goal — perhaps because, in talking about it, you feel that you’ve already achieved something.

Researchers concluded that when someone notices your identity goal, that social recognition is a reward that may cause you to reduce your efforts. So in this case, the students who stated they were committed to becoming lawyers had already achieved that identity in their mind thanks to the experimenter’s acknowledgment of their answers.

Amy Rigby, Trello

Uh, seriously, don’t fall into this trap. It’s very easy to do so. But how can you avoid it?

1. Keep your answers short.

When someone asks you about your new direction, reply simply and politely. There’s no need to get into the specific ins and outs, however. That’s between you and your journal. If they press you, change the subject, and tell them that you’re not going to talk about it. Surprisingly, most people will accept this and take you more seriously as a result.

Take note if they don’t. You may be dealing with a negative person.

2. Avoid negative people.

There are people who seem to exist solely to cast doubt on any positive expression. They’re everywhere and you may be married to one of them. Being able to identify them is a skill. If you’re married to one of them, then I’m sorry, and you’ve probably got bigger fish to fry. If you’re not married to one of them, but you’re in a relationship with them, get out of that relationship. I know this sounds drastic, but really, it’s self-preservation. You never, ever want to be tied down with someone who won’t let you shine. This is non-negotiable.

3. Define your short-term goals.

Changing your life can seem like a monumental task, but each big task can be broken down into smaller ones. Define a strategy, and get started. Eat that frog!

When you were young, you learned all kinds of new things. You learned how to fry an egg. You learned how to swim, and to tie your shoes. Everywhere you looked, there were people doing these things, which made the goals seem attainable.

When you decide to do something that has less predictable results, there’s often a lack of confidence in getting there, because the path is not clear. That’s your job, now: You’re clearing the path. And this takes time, energy, and thought. Don’t let other people make you question your techniques. You’re figuring it out, and you must guard that boundary and protect the process.

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