Learning new tricks

One of my second quarter resolutions for 2010 is to go rock climbing. Since I have never been rock climbing, I signed up for lessons and took my first course on Sunday.

Up until my class began, I was under the impression that I would do a lot of climbing as part of my rock climbing class. I did make it up a small wall during the class, so there was some climbing. However, the majority of the class was dedicated to equipment, safety measures, and knot tying. In all honesty, the class should have been called Knot Tying 101.

I was initially put off by the knot tying instruction. I went to rock climbing class wanting to rock climb. The next day, though, when my arms and fingers were sore just from going up the wall once, I quickly changed my opinion.

It’s hard to learn a new skill as an adult. We have to trust someone else to show us the way. We have to train our minds and our bodies to behave in new ways. We have to practice. We have to not be good at something before we can get better. And, we can’t dive right in and do it exactly the way we have imagined it.

Knot tying is vital in rock climbing. Improperly tied knots can mean the difference between a safe climb and serious, life-threatening injuries. Thankfully, most new skills that we acquire in our daily lives don’t start with life or death skills training. It won’t kill you if you fail to follow the instructions for how to use a new time tracking software program at work, but you may lose out on wages or waste time redoing your time sheets later. Learning the basics helps you to be more productive over the long term, and an initial investment in these fundamental skills can have huge rewards.

If you need to go back and learn some basic skills to pump up your productivity (per the discussion in today’s first post), I recommend that you do it. Take the chance. Trust someone else to show you the way, and cut yourself some slack if you’re not great in the beginning. Once you master the new skill, you’ll save yourself significant amounts of time.

16 Comments for “Learning new tricks”

  1. posted by Marci on

    A couple of years ago it became necessary for me to become certified as a lifeguard to take my Girl Scout troop on a big trip to the beach. While I could swim well enough for the rest of the requirements, I decided to take swim lessons to help with the endurance swim. It was humbling to take swim lessons at my age, but I did lots of research and found a wonderful instructor who would give me private lessons. I really enjoyed the lessons and discovered that I actually LOVE to swim, now that my technique has improved, and now do it regularly as part of my workout routine. I have to admit I am proud of myself for accomplishing that at my age and maybe showing my girls that you are never too old to learn something new.

  2. posted by David Engel on

    Very reminiscent of the tea cup lesson:


  3. posted by chacha1 on

    Yay Marci! I never properly learned to swim, either – was always able to stay afloat, but certainly had no technique. Then my fiancee sent me to a scuba class. It wasn’t a success – the instructors almost drowned me – but I did learn how to “freestyle” properly. I can kelp crawl!!

    As a dance teacher, I’m constantly reminding students that it’s okay – in fact, that it’s *desirable* – to practice basics over and over. Like Mark Dacascos said in his film SAMURAI, “all arts … are perishable skills.”

  4. posted by Claycat on

    Erin, you are a brave one!

  5. posted by Susan in FL on

    I graduated from college with a BS in Accounting TWENTY YEARS after I graduated from high school. I was thirty-seven at the time. The oldest person graduating from my college the same year as I did received a BS in Recreational Therapy at age sixty. It is never too late to learn.

  6. posted by Charfish Charlie on

    So, this one day climbing large rocks in the deserty part of Oregon, I’m about 100 feet off the ground. It’s late in the day, my arms are toast, my fingers are bleeding and my forearms are like mahogany but with veins all apoppin’ out. Just…done.

    Here I am at the top of the climbing route with my belayer (that’s the person who holds the rope and makes sure you don’t die, for anyone not into the lingo) far below. When you’re at the top, there’s a process where you have to grab the rope away from the belayer and pull it all up through the topmost permanent anchors. With all the rope up at the top with you, you set up a self-rappel system. This allows you to grab all your expensive climbing gear off the wall as you rappel down.

    It also means the belayer is now doing nothing. They can go eat a sandwich or take a nap for all it matters. And you’ve got to do this sort of tricky rope switcheroo thingy in order to set up the self-rappel and get back down. It’s sort of tricky, but not really.

    So here I am, at the top, and I forget how to do that stuff. Entirely. I can’t remember which step is first, how to tie a knot, how NOT to drop ALL the rope and leave myself stuck high up on the wall.

    I get super scared. So scared that I can feel my eyes pulsing, and I’m seeing stars and white flecks floating in front of me. Things begin to look two-dimensional and I can’t even thread the rope properly because everything looks paper-flat. I’ve got sweat pouring into my eyes and my legs are shaking out of tiredness and fear and I can’t stop them.

    My belayer calls, “Are you okay?” from below. And I don’t say anything because I KNOW if I talk, the force of my voice will crumble the rock and I’ll die. But I’m so so afraid of falling, that I almost WANT to fall so I don’t have to be afraid of it anymore.

    I look around a bit, away from the wall and into the distance. People say don’t look down and all that, but that’s BS. Like any problem, you need a little space between you and it so you can figure it out.

    It’s a gorgeous day and the Oregon desert is hot and the breeze is blowing on me. Amazing. And I just decide to breathe a bit and chill out, until I remember ANYthing that will help me.

    I remember my old climbing coach telling me, no matter what, “DO NOT forget to…”, and I hear it in my head and I figure it out. A 2- or 3-minute process takes me nearly 20 minutes and I get down alright.

    Now, I know sharing climbing stories isn’t the intent of the post, but I do have a point here:

    One: Yup…do it. Take the chance. Every unopened door has got something awesome or magical or terrifying on the other side. Go on and open it.

    Two: Learn from the best you can. Good coaches are NOT people with piles and piles of information. Good coaches are the people who’ve sorted through the piles and know the shit that counts, that will save you time and even save your life.

    Thanks for letting me tell my story. You’re the first to hear it.


  7. posted by Julia on

    Charlie tells a classic climbing story — mine barely varies from it, except it was in New Hampshire 😉 Just wanted to say that I started climbing in my mid-30’s – ten years ago – and it was life changing. I walk, hike, and climb stairs better. My balance is better. I have a much clearer idea of my strengths, which turn out to be far greater than my weaknesses. I highly recommend it to everyone of all ages & persuasions. And the gear is tiny – fits in a few duffels!

  8. posted by Claycat on

    What an amazing story, Charlie! Thanks for sharing!

    You won’t catch me on the side of a cliff! 🙂

  9. posted by Annette on

    And the only thing that got me to the top of the 90 foot wall in Tahoe was the fact that I was the only female there and would have let down half the planet if I didn’t keep going. Hardest thing I ever did.

  10. posted by the milliner on

    I’ll also add that once you master a new skill, not only will you save yourself lots of time, chances are you might have a lot of fun doing it too.

    You need to push past the boring, but essential (i.e. knot tying) and the scary (Charlie’s story, as Julia says, is classic. I still remember what it was like the first time I set up my own rappel – that adrenaline soaked heart in throat ‘OMG, I need to get this right or I die’ feeling is not easily forgotten) to get to the good stuff.

    Climbing (not to mention other skills) can definitely push you to your limits (physically, psychologically), but the hard won ascent makes the view that much sweeter. Just takes a leap of faith now and then and the perseverance to see it through.

  11. posted by j-squared on

    smart move taking a class. i thought i’d give rock climbing a shot a couple of years ago, and instead of getting proper instruction (beyond the climbing gym’s requirements for passing a belaying test), i went crazy climbing like a 5 year old during recess. I could barely use my hands for the next 3 days! sometimes it pays to ease into a new skill.

  12. posted by mike on

    I have been climbing for 2 years now, and frequently when I see new people climbing they always think they must do pull-ups the whole way. This coupled with the fear of falling(over gripping the holds) results in very very tired hands and fingers. Best advice I have ever gotten and something always repeating in my head is look at your feet. Climbing a wall is a lot like climbing a ladder use your strengths(those big ole legs that support your weight) while you work on your weaknesses(little chicken arms we all have from sitting on computers). Once you get over the fear and find your balance rock climbing will become more like dancing up the wall.

  13. posted by Sky on

    Wow, I thought I was being adventurous taking a Spanish class….

  14. posted by mydivabydesign on

    It’s good to remind people that you have to start with the basics to have a good foundation on which to build anything! Thanks.

  15. posted by Beverly D on

    One of the hardest things to do as an adult with experience at anything is to go back to being a novice at something. As an older adult, and experienced at lots of things–but NOT rock climbing–I still get that tickle of nerves whenever I try something new. I recently started on a new committee, and when I got there I thought Oh gee I’m going to fall on my face, these people are going to find out how dumb I am. But I got through the day and learned the process, and when I go back in 6 months for the next meeting it will be easier.

  16. posted by Cary on

    The same thing is true of sewing. A lot of people are surprised that you actually spend very little time sewing. Most of a project involves measuring, cutting and pressing.

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