This is a book that is near and dear to my heart after reading it. I learned the power of lifelong learning first from my parents. My father was always learning something about history, one of his favorite subjects or else meticulously reading through a manual for a piece of farm equipment, carefully scrutinizing detailed mechanical drawings of how pieces of the machinery went together. On road trips, he would stop at nearly every historical marker and loved museums of all kinds as well as learning how farmers in different regions grew their crops and handled their climates. My mother would immerse herself fully in a new hobby, whether it was sandblasting glass, crocheting blankets, studying geneology, or becoming a master gardener. Her curiosity led her in new directions and she happily followed it, practicing new things until they no longer intrigued her, then finding something else that attracted her attention.
These were great role models for lifelong learning and curiosity growing up. In this book, the author dives deeper into the experience of being a beginner, again and again, and why this is so important as we age.
There is something both scary and exciting about being a beginner. Often, when I’m new to something, I’m afraid of making a fool out of myself. It’s hard to be the person in a class or doing an activity in front of others and to be in that awkward stage of a beginner. It feels vulnerable and brings back memories of trying to master a new skill as a child and being teased by those who were further along or to whom it just came more naturally. There’s always that fear that I’ll never get to a point of feeling confident, never reach the point of proficiency.
Yet there’s also an exhilaration in learning something new. There’s a freedom in being a beginner…you’re not expected to get things “right” and so you can experiment. It’s a fresh new start, full of as many possibilities as a blank notebook, waiting to be written in. There’s also a thrill when something you’ve been working hard at comes together and you achieve some milestone. Being a beginner also forces us to leave our comfort zones, to look at the world in a new way.
In my own life, I’ve been a beginner over and over and right now I’m also a beginner. In my yoga teacher training, I’m pushed to try all kinds of new things I never thought I’d try. In some, I’m surprised at how difficult they are. For one, keeping my right and left straight when my students may be mirroring me is a particular challenge right now. It feels so awkward to tell someone to “put their right foot forward” even as I’m actually putting my left foot forward so that they can see what they need to do. In other things, I find myself unable to do much more than laugh at my own awkwardness as my balance fails spectacularly and instead of gliding gracefully in a pose I topple over in a tangle of limbs. In some things, I actually find it’s easier than I thought it would be.
Having to do so many new things challenges my body, but also my mind. My brain has to make new connections and function in ways it isn’t used to. In this book, the author explores what that does to our brains and how it can help us avoid age related cognitive issues. He also brings us along on his adventures as he tries new hobbies.
I’ve always believed that growing old may be mandatory, but growing up is entirely optional and that holding on to some childlike qualities is a good thing. In this book, I found new inspiration to hang on to curiosity and wonder and to continue to find new things to explore no matter what my age. It’s also a good, immersive read that mixes fascinating science with the author’s experiences in a way that avoids being dry or overly academic.
We could all use something new to inspire our curiosity these days and help us recapture a sense of wonder about the world we live in.