As we get older in life – gaining experience, competence and stature – we can become complacent. Things we’ve done a thousand times, in our jobs or our lives, get easier. Tasks go more easily, the rough edges smoothed like a river stone with repeated use. We begin to take processes for granted. Things are comfortable and pleasant. Who wants change? We’ve got life figured out. Besides, why fix what isn’t broken?
A study published in Psychological Science tested adults ages 60 to 90 who were assigned to either doing simple mental activities, like crossword puzzles, or learning a complex skill, like digital photography or quilting. After 3 months, the complex skill group showed much more improvement in memory than the crossword puzzle group. The scientists concluded that the improvement was due not only to the tasks being complex, but that the tasks were novel to the participant. Learning something new keeps us sharp.
What the study didn’t mention, but I am surmising, is how uncomfortable and clumsy those participants probably felt learning that new skill! Some may have even given up, not accustomed to feeling like they were a kid on training wheels.
Lately I have been feeling pretty clumsy myself. I have taken on the enormous task at age 60 of leaving a familiar career and entering the world of the entrepreneur. Culture shock. Every day I am learning something new – and struggling! Not a comfortable feeling. As an example, I’m not sure why I chose to change to a MacBook from an HP at the beginning of this journey, but I find myself at the Apple store on a weekly basis with a bunch of white headed seniors, teetering on industrial stools and staring at the training screen while a Gen X’er patiently explains how to use the power button. (Ok, it’s not quite that basic, but – note to Apple – change out those stools for something more suited to the demographic of your students.)
In addition to the new laptop system, on a daily basis I am teaching myself, watching YouTube, reading online – or sometimes just begging for help on the following: Website content management (as you are reading here!), business networking (never really had to do much in my old job), Small Business Association workshops (our tax dollars at work), and – most vexing – social media. Luckily I have three daughters that are giving me lots of help with the latter, but like a kid with the training wheels, I want to learn to do it myself.
The end result of learning all the new complex skills (just like I surmised about the study participants) is that I have been feeling uncomfortable, clumsy and incompetent these last couple months. But recently a new, unexpected feeling has started growing. Not all my baby steps are clumsy these days. Some days aren’t so bad. I feel some progress is being made – a glimmer of hope that competence for these new skills is in my future. But the biggest surprise is that I feel something that I haven’t felt in a long time. Something that long since left me in a job that I handled competently for 11 years.
I feel ALIVE! I feel reborn, excited for every day, loving learning and the challenges ahead.
So, as I head off to my future competent self, I want to remember this feeling and never fall back on the crossword puzzles and simple tasks. Feeling uncomfortable – learning something new and complex – is the way I want to march into the future of my Scintillating Sixties and onward. I’m taking off the training wheels, folks. Here we go!
Who wants to come along for the ride?!