The unexpected joy of learning in your 20’s

On a rainy night in December 2017, I bought a violin.

I was in a job that I completely and utterly hated, and as I stood in the pouring rain, waiting for a Schrodinger’s tram (it had been ‘arriving now’ for over an hour). I decided to duck into the music shop across the road to wait out the seemingly neverending journey.

I would like to preface this with a few things.

I lack almost any sense of rhythm and almost everyone I know can attest that my musical ability can be summed up the chords C, D and E on guitar, oh, and I can play heart and soul on the piano. So, when the bearded chap at the counter warned me that the violin was a tough instrument to learn, I had a mild pang of terror that I wrote off as excitement.

In a total of two months, I learnt to play Twinkle Twinkle.

The violin that I had often admired strangers on the internet delicately bowing was like a car alarm in my clumsy hands. The neighbours complained, my boyfriend complained, my parents complained, friends would wince as I got it out to demonstrate my new found ‘talent’.

I practised daily (alone – obviously, and mostly in my car), and I adored my nightmare-inducing new companion. And despite my hopes of producing heart-wrenching pieces that would make strangers weep, I learnt a grand total of two songs. But, my experience learning violin sums up something much more important.

The unexpected joy of learning.

You see, at some point in my life, I became so terrified of failing. I stopped wanting to learn. And I know it’s a cliche, but there is so much joy to be found in giving things a crack, with no desire to monetize or even necessarily excel at something. Without being afraid of looking stupid.

So, in 2018. I decided to rediscover learning. 

I went to Norway and learnt a few sentences, that I would endlessly parrot. Nothing big, just ‘please, thank you and how are you?’ To my surprise, no one laughed at my awful accent.

I made handmade birthday cards that despite my greatest efforts, resembled the sort of thing you buy at a primary school fair (made by a cack-handed, paintbrush wielding child). I sat my friends down and hopelessly bowed my way through Aud Lang Syne on New Year’s Eve. I made candles, crepes and (despite my best attempts), a lot of homemade crap.

Because we spend so much of our twenties trying to be experts at things, we tend to forget the joy of being completely useless at something new. There’s this immense pressure to be good at things. To know how to bang out a three-course meal, whilst writing a book and you seem to lack creativity if you can’t knock up a curtain made of flowers. But we need to move away from this aggressive perfectionism. 

This year, I hope you all start a language you can’t speak or attend a dance class (especially if you have two left feet) and rediscover the power of learning something new.


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