I wish I had understood that as a child. I tried to learn to dance and act, but I mostly failed because I didn't really put myself out there. I did learn to sing thanks to choirs. I got into computers partly because all my mistakes were completely private.
There's no reason I can't continue to learn new skills. I just need to shed my ego and try things without reservation.
1. Young people care what others think of them
2. Middle aged people don't care what others think of them
3. Old people realize that nobody thinks about them
- Twenty One Pilots
There is no practice life. You learn by living.
If you can learn to handstand on someone else's hands without, you can do just about anything.
The point being: you have to just go for it. You WILL fail at some point, in any and every endeavor.
But the reward is that you might just be doing a handstand on another person :)
I can run circles around some of my younger associates in terms of critical thinking, design thinking, and integrative thinking. My job requires this and I do it whenever needed.
When I was 20, I worried what other people were thinking about me.
When I was 40, I didn't care what other people were thinking about me.
When I turned 60, I realized nobody had ever been thinking about me.
I always thought the corollary was: feeling stupid is ignorance leaving the mind.
To grow, we must learn how to fail well. I agree; the goal is to succeed or fail egolessly: efficiently and productively, without regret, even do it eagerly as one explores a new path... then failure becomes merely a lesson in what not to try, before you try again.
However, I will point to Richard Hamming's advice to learn from our successes rather than our failures.
"There are so many ways of being wrong and so few ways of being right that it is much more economical to study successes."
"Study successes. If you study successes, when your time comes, you'll know how to succeed. If you study failures, then you'll know how to fail. So study success very closely: not only yours, but other people's. Why did Galileo do what he did? How did Newton do it? Try as best you can to study other people: how they succeed, and what the elements of their success are, which elements of that can you adapt to your personality. You can't be everybody, but you have to find your own method. Studying success is a very good way of informing your own style."
(The latter quote is from 25:30 of
And one's inner dialogue tends to be the nastiest critic and chips away at motivation when learning something new.
It doesn't help that many humans tend to put down others more easily if they perceive them as weak regardless of similar or different identity. Being of the same age, gender, ethnicity, etc. doesn't matter. And people strive really hard to reframe their perspective to view others as weak too.
I've gone through this as a child and it was paralysing. You always play it safe and that results in you not giving 100%.
Struck a chord there - because I had come to the same conclusion of sorts, about my ability to practice activities in public.
Riding a bicycle is a fairly hard thing to learn and very easy to practice (from my experience), but learning to do that when everyone around is falling off them was much less of a struggle than trying to learn ice skating in my mid thirties, when everyone at the "cheap skate night" is just gliding by with no effort.
There's a certain embarrassment which distracts from the task at hand. And being good at several other things, which are more immediately satisfying to do also factors into the decision to spend time learning something new which you'll never be as good as the ones who started when they were 5.
Right now, I'm struggling to learn enough spanish to converse with my kid & observing language learning first-hand, in third person. The words just come out without any particular boundaries in production - grammar, conjugations, gender, whether it is the right word.
Everything is optional and the only discouraging response is skipping the conversation and trying to ignore it.
But I went back to South America for work in 2009, and apparently I just sounded like someone from a different Latin country. Someone even asked if I was French.
With deliberate practice and a dialect coach you can pick up an accent, I don't see why the inverse wouldn't also be possible.
Unfortunately, there seem to be more resources out there for people with the opposite problem: poor production but good comprehension. Anyone in a similar boat to mine who can offer advice? Is simple immersion the best approach?
Adults avoid stuff they can't do and also expect to be better at stuff because they're adults. I teach clay craft/pot throwing - for some reason adults think they can come along and make/throw a vase on their first go. Like expecting to rock up and make a wedding cake with no prior experience at baking.
I'm self taught, my first timers manage pots at a level that took me about a year to achieve.
We see first hand at painting sessions the birth of inhibition in art - parents who tell their child the painting they're doing is _wrong_ because the adult thinks they (the adult!) can do it better. The child isn't allowed space to simply express, to learn the movements of the brush and feel of the paint, to make "mistakes".
My belief is this: given how much I've learned from my mistakes, I think it would be wise to make quite a few more. Hopefully new ones.
That's not to say there's no genetic component (my son, $deity bless him, has this anxiety/fear of lots of things - we're honestly not sure if we're unaware of some environmental cause, or if he's fighting genetics...)
Even in East Asia, plenty of people learn Japanese to watch anime, Chinese to enjoy Chinese classics, medieval stories, CPop, Korean for KPop, etc, etc. South Asia has a very rich intellectual tradition in dozens of languages, and a thriving (albeit scrappy) industry of film in local languages. Don't forget the time-honored trope of learning English through Hollywood movies.
America is unique in that it has created a culture that doesn't connect with the outside world at all. American sports are American, American TV shows are American, American movies come from Hollywood. It makes being multilingual in America a much rarer feat.
Because English is so widely spoken it is more costly (however you measure it) for an English speaker to learn enough languages to converse than it is for a non-English speaker to learn English; after all, they only have to learn one language while the English speaker will have to learn several to be able to converse with the same number of people.
In my job I talk and correspond with people who speak Castilian Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, various South American Spanish dialects, Hindi, Gujarati, Arabic, Turkish, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, German (including Swiss German and Austrian), French, Chinese (Mandarin and several major dialects), Vietnamese, Italian.
I speak passable Norwegian because I live in Norway but there is no chance that I could learn all the other languages, life is too short and all those colleagues speak English.
They Spanish speakers (etc.) don't learn Hindi (etc.) either for just the same reason.
If English weren't so widespread we would have to choose some other auxiliary language. For a thousand years it was Latin, then it was French, now it is English, sometime in the future it might be Mandarin Chinese.
So I don't think multilingualism is necessarily highly valued anywhere, the ability to communicate is valued and speaking the most commonly used auxiliary language gets you a lot of that.
Depending on the school you can elect to keep studying a language in high school, and the subject weighting is quite favourable towards your final College entry rank. But most people graduate with minimal retention.
you would really trust yourself to translate a film after picking up a language without ever speaking it with anyone?
Sure, this is completely normal. For example, coastal Albanians tend to understand Italian films, television and radio quite well just from exposure to Italian-language broadcasting, even if they never actually interact with Italians. And as I mentioned elsewhere, for a lot of people who learn to understand Spanish media, it all happens through telenovelas, not time spent with actual Latin American people.
Over the last year, I have been studying Serbian and Albanian without much interaction at all with speakers, and I am already at the point where I can enjoy many films and television programmes – sure, I might have to occasionally pause the video and rewind it or look up a word in the dictionary, but the learning and reference materials I have at my disposal are completely sufficient for that, there is no need to actually speak with anyone.
The point would still be wrong. Plenty of people learn a foreign language without the ability to have much contact with native speakers. Eastern Europeans have been keen on picking up Latin American Spanish, but it’s mostly watching telenovelas or falling in love with music from there, not actually going to Latin America. People learn all kinds of foreign languages from all the way across Europe, with the only actual interaction with native speakers being maybe a holiday once a year or less. A lot of language learning plays out through exposure to media, and with the internet, Americans have no less access to media than Europeans (or, as another person here notes, East Asians).
The biggest advantage here would come from picking up Spanish. Live in a place with large Hispanic populations and you'll find plenty of media over here in Spanish in certain locations. It actually wouldn't be too difficult to immerse yourself somewhat. It's not surprising therefore that the greatest percentage of American bilingual speakers have Spanish as their other language (http://www.gallup.com/poll/1825/about-one-four-americans-can...).
I agree that media exposure can play a huge motivation. However, at least in the past, mainstream media in the United States was almost always originally in English. To use one example, in many other nations, foreign languages (English for sure at least) appear in pop radio hits constantly. In American pop music, in contrast, foreign languages rarely appear -- when present, they usually were one hit wonders, eg your "Sukiyaka", "99 Luftballoons", and "Amadeus" type songs. Obviously there are a few exceptions even "just outside" that mainstream circle (example: Rammstein) but "the norm" of US pop radio in the past was pretty much 99% English.
I do wonder if this will change a little. I am hearing more foreign language lyrics in American pop songs (mostly Spanish); some foreign media forms seem at least cult popular (anime is an example of a foreign medium with a decent sized American subculture); and as you point out, the Internet allows access to far more media forms than you could get previously.
You have the advantage of living in those countries and being able to immerse yourself in the language. In the US we have be more proactive about learning if we truly want to get fluent. There's less immediacy about knowing a 2nd language here. It's not great, I'm not defending it. Just listing a possible advantage Europeans have over us.
I am not sure I understand the point being made here or through some of your other replies. What does your experience being in many different countries with different common languages have anything to do with Americans claiming they are trying to learn a foreign language? I find it no different than anyone else claiming they're trying to learn a foreign language?
Are you implying Americans cannot learn a foreign language or that it's more difficult due to the lower chance of exposure to those languages, lack of necessity to learn those languages, or lower probability of encountering others whose native language is not English? If so, I would likely agree.
Oddly your supporting statements counter what I describe because I do not know your nationality and you could be American, having moved when you were much younger.
The secret seems to be: Practice. If you want to be able to do new things, you need to always be doing new things. I am always trying to learn something new - mentally and physically. For example, I am very right-side dominant in my body, but I have lately been trying to open more doors with my left hand, throw stuff at the trashcan with it, etc.
Always be doing at least one new thing in your life if you want to be doing new things for the rest of your life. It is OK to fail at a new thing! You just have to admit failure, pat yourself on the back for your courage, take stock of what went right and wrong, then pick a new new thing to do.
Relatedly, I have noticed that some people who I considered much smarter than me as a teenager often no longer appear to be, and I believe it is because they stopped trying to grow new types of skills and thus let their brains stagnate.
It is hard to do unfamiliar things, but so worth it.
The kicker was when I realized that talent doesn't really exist; talent is built. The sort of people who are "naturally" talented at drawing and arts are likely to be people who are naturally more intuitive (rather than analytical) and will spend lots of time just grinding away at things instead of trying to understand them intellectually until they don't need to understand it anymore. Sort of like a physically fit person would just climb over an obstacle while an analytical but untrained person might get stuck trying to figure out a "smart" solution.
I consider myself much more of an analytical person, which is partly why I am learning to draw. I want to strengthen my intuitive side as well.
It doesn't hurt that the theory of drawing (which includes the physics of light, human psychology and understanding of form) is actually quite interesting. Practicing my muscle memory today also lead to a small epiphany when I realized that instead of focusing on making an ellipsis with my pen, I have to focus on my shoulder muscles and get them to move my arm elliptically and drawing then simply happens.
If you're interested in learning to draw yourself, check out drawabox.com
Pro artist here. For what it's worth this is a pretty good habit to learn, as it's more likely to keep you safe from the carpal tunnel syndrome fairy if you do a lot of drawing. Good drawing form involves keeping your wrist static, and doing all the motion with your arm and/or fingers.
Learning this feels weird but is well worth it. The best way I found to pick it up is to work with a pencil; instead of holding it nearly perpendicular to the paper, hold it almost parallel to the paper, with your fingers on the far side/top and thumb on the near/bottom; you should get a big fat line from the side of the point touching the paper. This is a grip that all the grizzled old pros swore by when I started working in that industry, and it's helped a ton.
I think the understanding of angles, intersection points, transfer of energy, etc. helped me practice as a novice (as well as helped me stay interested). But to get really "good" at something, you need to work at it until most of the skills involved are almost subconscious. (Which aligns somewhat with what I recall from "Thinking fast and slow", which I thought was a great book).
If I try to line up every shot perfectly and concentrate on my cue action, I inevitably make a bad shot.
(source: my girlfriend is a cartoonist)
Yes, always be trying to do at least one new thing. At the moment I'm on a new old thing, enhancing a Web site with very slightly more daring CSS, and also getting better performance from my solar-powered RPi2 than I seem to be able to get from CloudFlare's state-of-the art monster operation! B^>
If anyone tells you that, I suggest you take a long hard look at who they actually are.
It's a separate subject, but there is a lot of age bias in the field.
My source is that I know plenty of developers working in their 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60, which is anecdotal for you but reality for me.
Now I am thinking of becoming a lawyer or civil servant, but worry that I may no longer be mentally agile enough to learn a new skillset. So I'm very glad to read this article!
Incidentally, as someone heading the opposite way to yourself, do you have any advice / warnings for a developer thinking about law?
Many attorneys seem to find that their abstract / academic "love of the law" doesn't translate into a tangible form that they can live with day to day. Many physicians discover the same thing -- the daily practice of medicine is not as charming as their inchoate notion of "healing the sick" suggested.
Concretely, after working in software for 30+ years, I'm grateful every day that the field is big enough that it let me evolve from one domain to another, and explore multiple skills and interests over the years. If I'd been trained only narrowly, perhaps as a PhD virologist, I doubt I would have been pleased at the slim variety of work opportunities that I was prepared to pursue.
That being said, my motive has always been the work rather than the domain. Of course, law is very prestigious and sounds very impressive, but what really draws me is the chance to research, think and write in a way I haven't since university.
I originally wanted to be an academic, but the conditions and the realities of the work are quite depressing. Programming pays well, and I think I'm good at it, but my real skills are more verbal. I actually quite like the idea of combing through complex documents and trying to judge what's truly salient. For whatever reason it just seems my brain is wired to enjoy that kind of work. It's the same kick I got from literary criticism, poring over texts and slowly building an argument from a mass of details.
It's a hunch, anyway. Would you suggest any ways to validate it?
The secret is definitely to practice, I've found an even bigger shortcut is to convince/pay/beg an expert to be your coach or mentor. And once they are your coach, demonstrate that you respect their feedback by obeying when they tell you to update your approach.
As they say, perfect practice makes perfect.
However, if you can recognize this and reset your expectations then you will probably find you have extensive general skills to bring to bear around learning and self discipline. Those skills will make the actual learning process overall much quicker compared to learning your first few major skills, it just might not feel like it.
I find myself less stressed by inevitable failures as I know that I have already proved myself in a number of ways, so anyone who infers idiocy from my learning stumbles may themselves be the idiot... %-P
If you do remember your studies better from youth, consider that a high school or college course is typically several months' worth of daily classes, while a Coursera class is maybe 10 hours total where your brain thinks you're vegging out at home alone watching TV. If you could somehow spare a full-time semester today at 41, I bet you'd retain a good amount of what you learned.
Copious notes helps too :)
Yes you can learn things as you get older but the bar for your achievements gets lower and lower as you age.
Let's take chess: There are no cases of a novice starting to learn at the age of 25 and becoming a grandmaster. You need to do some of that deliberate practice at an early age. I suspect the case is the same for math,programming, violin playing etc.
Interesting thread on the topic is here: https://www.chess.com/forum/view/general/who-is-the-oldest-p...
It is not just the case of kids having more time to dedicate to a skill/hobby because there are people of independent means who pursue chess at an adult age and still fail to advance.
As you get older your ability to truly master a skill declines.
That does not mean that you can't become a productive programmer at age 60 or 70.
It just means that you will not achieve Bill Joy || Fabrice Bellard || John Carmack levels of proficiency and I suppose that is ok. :)
Most perfect information games are _extremely_ memorization biased. A huge part of gaining the initial skill to compete at a decent level is memorizing thousands of positions, openings, and mistakes by other players. It's only after that that the real play begins.
So it's no surprise that older people who don't have the time to invest into this cannot reach the upper echelons. At 25, over a third of your intellectual life is already gone. The raw time you have to learn the basics and experiment at the upper levels is cut in a third.
Bill Joy himself only started programming in graduate school.
However, that doesn't mean that the mind of people over 30 doesn't work as well. It may just be that people have different personality types, some people don't care that much about revolutionizing the world, and those who do care do not require all that long to do it.
So by age 30 or so, you're left with two self-selected groups: those who passionately wished to change the world and those who focused on some other priority in life instead.
Look at current nobel prize winners in physics for example. Many of them weren't young when they did their most important work. I read an article about this some time ago, but I wasn't able to find it at the moment.
So I think, there isn't enough data to conclude that someone older can't be a grandmaster. Though, most people won't be a grandmaster either way, so there aren't that many data points to go off of.
And who knows how the prevailing wisdom that you can't teach an old dog new tricks affected the number of people who chose to try to become a grandmaster? Maybe your priorities change when you are older and it has nothing or less to do with raw ability?
That means you're not asking whether a 25 year old can achieve a static goal(e.g. read 50 books), but you're asking them to successfully compete with everyone else, which includes other 25 year olds but with 15+ years of experience.
Here's to hoping you aren't in a hiring position.
Looking back I believe this is because I was indeed just past the age of physical prime and could feel the slight slowdown.
When I reached my early 40's all that went away and I kept forgetting I wasn't in my 20's. (although I certainly am not). I didn't feel "old" anymore, but did start to realize life was short and think more about the future.
I don't know if starting to feel "old" in early 30's is common or not. But 30's is a great decade. You certainly aren't "old" at that time relatively, no matter how much you suspect it. I didn't care so much for the 20's. You are still a kid in many ways with kid habits and not as much control over yourself as you learn later, but you don't know it. Or at least I didn't.
Also even though I'm still pretty darn smart, my mental retrieval speed seems to be a lot slower than it used to be. Has made interviews in particular harder to get through.
However, on the plus side, I didn't really start getting comfortable in my own skin until my thirties either. Started figuring out how to talk to people without getting nervous or assuming they're judging every little thing I say and do, started dating a lot more (even though I was in much better physical shape a long time ago I was too self-conscious or kept making excuses not to take chances back then), and figured out some activities I really enjoy that I probably wouldn't have even attempted in my teens and twenties, so there's that.
I see this frequently in teaching. It's a horrible downward spiral. And it's been hard for me to learn tact, so I don't add to the problem.