Saturday, June 11, 2011

You are NOT done learning

It takes a long time to be good at something and most of the time that road is paved with quite a few potholes and bumps. Still, when we develop an expertise in anything, we forget what it took to get good.

I was good at my old job, very good at it. I was there for eighteen years and worked my way through the ranks, held a variety of positions, grew as the organization grew and had relationships with many people. There were few questions I didn’t know the answers to, and few problems I could not navigate my way through. I knew the best time to catch the subway to the office, the locations of the best lunch spots and the fastest way to get cross town. In short, I had become an expert at my work life.

And then I lost my job.

In a few short hours I went from being an expert to a complete and total novice. From the time I was sixteen I had never been without a job, had only taken one vacation longer than a week, and had listed “losing my job” on the top five things I never wanted to go through in my life. (Note to reader here, if you want to avoid something don’t make a list of what you are trying to avoid, the universe has a way of delivering all those items to you when you least expect it – which is why I no longer remember any of the other items on that list!)

On top of that I was about to experience the release of my first novel which I had been working on for over ten years and was thrilled beyond belief and also in the dark about what it would mean to me and how well it would do.

The first thing I realized was how invested I was in my routine, in my expertise at my life. Sure, it had gotten a little boring, and I was utterly miserable at my job. But it was familiar, it was safe, it was… my life.

It didn’t take me long to realize that the only mistake I had made all those years was thinking there were parts of my life I could partition off and think of as solid and unchangeable and that it was okay to stop learning and growing in one area if I was trying in another.

The problem is not that life is changing all the time, that every minute of every day something is shifting that will impact how our trains run, or what someone at work says, or how good that pork chop will taste at dinner. No the problem is that we EXPECT that everything will go as we wish it to, that our path will be clear, that each day will be without challenges. And, on some level, we think our learning is over, that the reward for hard work is stability. That being an expert in routine is living.

I am now at a job that allows me to bring the best of my abilities to task every day, but it is so new and the challenges so vast that at times I find myself stricken with doubt, and unable to answer questions off the top of my head. I have had to learn to say, “I don’t know but I will find out.” And in doing so I have discovered that my talent is not in knowing, it is in finding out.
I don’t have a straight path to work anymore, I gave up my apartment when I lost my job as I wasn’t sure if I would work in the city anymore. I’m not sure what I’m going to do about that yet but I have a good friend who shares her apartment with me whenever I need it. I know a few good places to go for lunch but I work in area that is changing all the time and is so far removed from my old work neighborhood that it feels like I work in a different city. I am not an expert in my routine anymore, not an expert at my job, or even in knowing how to run my life.

My novel has done well, and has opened up worlds to me, and connected with me many incredible writers and readers. I am working on my second novel. I worry it will not be as good, it won’t be what I want it to be. I struggle with the doubt and with an expectation I have that I should be feeling something different, I should be further along, should be through learning about writing? Free of doubt?

I see more clearly now that the learning is never over, that the only thing worth being an expert in is being open to change, open to where the day takes you, and trusting your worth is not in your knowledge, your looks or your talents, your worth is in your heart and what you bring to each new day.

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