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Lifelong Learning

Notes From a Life-Long Learner


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, perfectscarves. I just never graduated to knitting hats or sweaters.

Learning to play the piano has been my greatest success so farI 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.


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Thanks Jyna! Guess I'm a scanner too. I learned to knit last year and can make a great scarf and hat. Then I got interested in making silver rings with beach glass set into them. Now I've moved on to sewing. I kept a close watch while my son took classes recently and tried it out for myself on an old machine dragged down from the attic. I won't be opening an Etsy shop anytime soon, but I've finished a costume for a play, a linen dress for me and a few pairs of drawstring pajama pants for my son. Haven't tried soap-making yet...hmm...

Thank you, fellow scanner.

Thank you, fellow scanner. I've tried sewing, too. I had a machine and I made a few pieces of clothing. I'd actually like to sew again, but this time by hand. I think it would be really therapeutic!

me too

I'm also taking piano lessons now (at the age of 46!), learning to read in French, reading through the "Western Canon" on a schedule I created for myself based on Harold Bloom's book, am hopelessly attracted to all kinds of crafts and textile arts, knitting, sewing, beading, crocheting ... I ask myself sometimes, is it ADD? or just an addiction to the process of learning ...? I would love to have one or two passions only, but it's more fun in my mind to say "what is my passion today?"

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