I am a rabid, chronic life-long learner, and I'm starting this column because promoting life-long learning is one of the key components of our mission here at NYPL. Also, I bet there are a lot of people like me out in the world, people who want to know about EVERYTHING.
Whether you take up something new one thing at a time, or scatter your attention on a few things at once, this is your forum.
In her book called Refuse to Choose, Barbara Sher calls people like us "scanners." As she puts it, we are “hopelessly interested in everything.”
I’ve always wanted to become an expert at one thing, but, generally, I find something new to learn, put my all into it, and once I’ve learned it, I find something else and start the process all over again. Often, I try to juggle many new subjects at once. Sher says it’s OK to be this way, and that’s a relief, although at times I still have to convince myself that she’s right.
Nevertheless, I can say without a doubt, that learning something new is one of the most exciting things that I ever do. Gardening, soap-making, knitting, piano-playing—I’ve tried all of these and more. Perhaps I’m addicted to the rush of my first success in each new subject. I can still remember the surge of joy and self-confidence at seeing my first tomato plant seedlings sprout from fresh peat. My third batch of soap was nothing fancy, but I wouldn’t have hesitated to recommend a bar to anyone. I knit perfect—I mean, perfect—scarves. I just never graduated to knitting hats or sweaters.
Learning to play the piano has been my greatest success so far—I spent over two years deeply and passionately immersed in the practice, and although I don’t play regularly, I’m able to sit at the piano with a new song and have a decent rendition of it within twenty minutes.
But I’m no expert.
In Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell cites researchers who conclude that it takes about 10,000 hours to become a world-class expert in any field. That's fine, but instead of using those hours to become a master, I'd rather use them to learn a bit about a lot. So, I’m probably never going to be the one with the green thumb, or the proprietor of a soap shop, or the go-to lady for the fancy knit handbag. And, I’m definitely not going to be the next Scott Joplin.
I'll be the very happy generalist.
Hey, Barbara Sher says it’s OK. If you think so, too, and have your own experiences to share, I’d love to hear from you.
And I invite all NYPL colleagues to share, via this blog channel, what you’re learning now.