8 Lessons on Learning: How to Develop a New Skill (Without Giving Up): Part 2

planner“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

In the first installment of this piece, I shared my experience learning how to produce drumming videos by discussing the importance of planning and defining an approach to develop new skills. I hope I made it abundantly clear that planning is indeed indispensable. However…

If you don’t take action, all of your planning was done in vain.

I developed a great approach to learning how to produce videos. I knew what I wanted to create, the hardware and software I would use, and what I wanted to learn. But none of that meant anything until I hit the daunting red button and started importing my audio and video footage to edit. (As an aside, would more things be created if that button were green? Which evildoer decided “record” should be the color synonymous with “stop”?)

If the first part was about defining an approach to develop new skills, this part is about following through. We bought our shiny new camera last time, flipped it to manual, set our ISO, aperture, and shutter speed.

Now it’s time to click. And keep on clicking.


5.) Develop by doing

It might be redundant to say that doing is the essential component of learning.

But think about what kind of shudders and negative reactions your body produces upon hearing the word “homework.” Lessons in math were always complemented by exercises at home. Critical discussions of literature became take-home essays and book reports. It may not be high school anymore, but our teachers knew what they were doing.

If anything is to be learned, it is to be done.

Before I started my business, I did what I’m guilty of so frequently doing – bought a few “How-To” books on Amazon. Business Plans for Dummies. How to Start a Business. The Entrepreneur’s Guide. Some good resources, no doubt, and essential towards planning —

But I learned more in a week of operation than I would have learned in years of reading.

I talked about Lynda.com in the previous post. It’s an incredible resource, full of professionally created videos and lessons across a wide range of creative and business topics. They offer two membership tiers: the basic, with no exercise files included, and the premium, with downloadable exercise files and course materials. I hope you that if you sign up, you don’t go for the basic membership and make a $12.50 a month mistake. Why?

I could have sat behind my computer screen for hours, taking notes on how to import footage and the keyboard shortcuts for ripple edits, but when it came time to do it, what are the chances I would have remembered?

Instead, I watched every video with my program open on one screen and the video running on another. As Ashley’s calm and authoritative voice guided me through the essentials of Premiere Pro, I was working on the exercises myself, internalizing the commands and functions.

Reading, hearing, and seeing is one thing. Doing is another.


6.) Make your own mistakes. (A lot of them.)

“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” – Albert Einstein

Some mistakes are irreparable — let’s forget for a moment any life-threatening, relationship-ending, or legally-questionable actions. Instead, embrace the beauty of making a mistake while develop new skills. I would go so far as to say that learning is the process of learning from mistakes.

Using the video-editing exercise files was incredibly helpful, but everything was organized and the process was fairly objective. It was like learning a math concept directly from a book — the answers were there and clearly explained.

But Ashley won’t be holding my hand when it comes time to create my own videos.

I recorded some test audio and footage so that, after working on the exercise files, I would also be working on my own project. Sure enough, it wasn’t nearly so straightforward. My audio levels weren’t consistent, video file formats were all over the place, and that was just the beginning! I heard and saw things that I did not anticipate recording to begin with, noticing improvements I could make in my capture settings and my recording environment.

With every mistake, I learned — and am still learning — a better way to do things. It’s only been a month and I have no doubt that the videos I produce in a year from now will be exponentially better than those I am making now.

In college job interviews, “I’m a bit of a perfectionist and sometimes need to let go” was my go-to “weakness.” And it’s true. Sometimes I’ll overplan, overthink, and overanalyze, instead of just doing the damn thing! So, I’ll tell you what I constantly have to remind myself —

Let go. Mess up. It’s okay. We’ll figure it out.


7.) Ask, but only when you REALLY don’t know

If I ever became a teacher, I think I would be the kind that students hated the first month of school, but called “dude” or by a first name basis by the end of the year. My approach to learning — with other people and more importantly, with myself — is tough love.

Any girl I’ve ever dated can attest to this. I have the stubborn and oh-so-stereotypical quality of not wanting to ask for directions. And it’s not because I’m afraid to talk to someone I don’t know, or am embarrassed by not knowing something. I just really like figuring things out myself.

Something magical happens when we get stuck and have to pull ourselves out. Not only do we learn what it is that got us in a hole to begin with, we often learn something new so that we both don’t fall in the same hole and avoid future holes as well.

Spend time on any equipment/gear forums online and you’ll likely run into the acronym RTFM, which politely stands for Read The F*cking  Manual. How many times have you asked a question that could have very simply been answered by a quick google search or a flip through the product/program manual?

That said, there are times when there are diminishing returns on the time spent laboring over a question. At a certain point, it’s okay to consult a professional with a question or pose it to a larger group. Learning from your own mistakes is one part of learning. Learning from the mistakes of others can be just as important. Especially when they are mistakes you can avoid making yourself.

If you don’t have the opportunity to ask an instructor or professional in person, there are sites like Quora and online forums for just about everything. Sign up, use the search function, and if you still can’t get your answer, ask. (Of course, this is of unsolicited advice — use your best judgement.)

My approach to asking a question I don’t know is always explaining my question, my process, what I’ve tried, and what I just cannot figure out. There is humility in admitting failure and respect for effort.

8.) Don’t give up. Seriously. Don’t. Give. Up.

This is extremely important when it comes to developing new skills. I know how frustrating things can be. (And so do the number of broken drumsticks I’ve thrown across the room. Nothing is more exasperating than not being able to play something you practice over and over.)

So what do you do when you feel like you’ve hit a wall and are not progressing?

Sometimes my remedy is plowing through. Slowing something down or breaking it down to its components and taking it a step at a time.

Other times, my answer is the opposite — taking a break and getting up to drink a cold glass of water. Or going outside for a brisk walk and some fresh air to return with a clear mind.

There are a lot of things I don’t know, but one thing I do know for certain: the answer is not giving up.

I quit a great job a few years ago to take risks and work on new projects, many of which I underestimated in difficulty and scope. I’ve had to learn and relearn skills without the safety net of a boss to ask for help or colleagues to defer something I don’t know. Despite being uncomfortable at first, in many ways, I credit this “DIY” approach to the confidence and calm I take to approach learning new skills now.

There has never been a better time to develop new skills. Whether for business or for pleasure or — hopefully for both —  if you want to learn it, I really believe that you can. From Groupon discounts for in-person photography courses or online tutorials guiding you through the basics of graphic design, resources are abundant.

Define your approach. Follow through. And watch the magic happen.

Did you find this helpful? Have you picked up any skills recently and want to share your experience? Are there things you want to learn but don’t know where to begin?

Yoni Dina - author of 9 posts on The Art of Charm

Yoni is the founder of Etz & Steel and a writer/musician at Yoni the Drummer. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.