Why You Can Master Anything

What does it take to master something?

The other day, I found the answer to this question unexpectedly when I decided to skip my gym workout and color at the pool instead.

Yes, I am an adult.

And if you haven’t whipped out your crayons since you were 7, I recommend trying it out. Seriously. It’s so. much. fun.

While coloring poolside, I noticed a woman in her mid-to-late 80s get into the pool to swim some laps. “Good for her!” I thought. “I hope to swim like that when I’m 85 too.”

After she finished her workout, she got out of the pool, dried off, and noticed I was (still) coloring; she walked over and took a look at my “adult” coloring book. “Wow! I’ve never seen anything like that [kind of coloring book] before!” she exclaimed. I briefly tried to explain that it was a coloring book made for adults but felt incredibly stupid doing so even though this woman was completely nonjudgmental.

We started chatting and she told me that she loved to sketch; she had taken classes for fun over a decade and had gotten pretty good at drawing. She then turned to me and said, “What’s great about your age [middle age *ahem*], is that you’ve got your whole life ahead of you. You can master anything.”

What’s great about middle age, is that you’ve got your whole life ahead of you. You can master anything.

Her comment blew my mind. Not that I felt that my life was over or anything, but ya know, you hear stories of very young people doing incredibly exceptional things, and you start to think (subconsciously) that your time for becoming a master at something is over. Maybe you think “If I’m were going to be a good painter, I would have needed to start when I was much younger.” or  you think “I would love to sing, but I’m just not good at it.” Then you read stories about how getting good at something requires specially crafted, deliberate practice. Add on your family and work responsibilities, and it all starts to feel overwhelming. You might start to think “If I haven’t mastered something by now, I probably never will.”

But here is this 85 year old swimmer, letting me know that I can master anything because I have (G-d willing) more life left to live. I don’t need talent, deliberate practice, or tons of money to master a new skill. Just time.

I don’t need talent, deliberate practice, or tons of money to master a new skill. Just time.

We started chatting more, and the woman suggested I try drawing people I see at the pool or a cafe just for fun. “People are so interesting,” she said. “Open your eyes and you will notice beauty.” I thought back to the one art class I had taken in college. “Yeah, I’ve drawn people a couple of times, but I’m not very goo-” I stopped myself and looked at her. She looked at me and said, “All it takes is some practice and time. And you’ve got time.”

Excuse gone.

I stopped and thought about how I could be good at anything with practice over time. And I didn’t need to be all Type A about it either – I could just sit by the pool and learn to draw. With the “I’m not good at it” excuse gone, I now had an unlimited set of possibilities. Would I learn to paint? To draw? To get a black belt in martial arts? I was inspired.

With the “I’m not good at it” excuse gone, I now had an unlimited set of possibilities. Would I learn to paint? To draw? To get a black belt in martial arts? I was inspired.

While I was pondering my newfound set of possibilities, the elderly woman asked if I had ever used watercolor pencils before. I told her I had and that I had enjoyed them. She told me she had a set that she had gotten a set for herself one year ago but that she had yet to use it. Now that she had seen me coloring for the past 45 minutes, she was inspired to go home and give her water color pencils a whirl. “I mean, I bought them because I wanted to use them. And then I just left them on the shelf! What good are they going to bring me just sitting on that shelf?” she asked aloud. She thought about that some more and then said “And now you have inspired me to try something new. Thank you.”

It seems that inspiration is a two way street.

It seems that inspiration is a two way street.

Thank you, 85 year old swimmer at the pool for inspiring me to lean a new skill. And I hope your watercolor pencils are great.

What skill will you learn now that you’ve got your whole life ahead of you?

 

 

 

 

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