Thursday, January 5, 2017

Why I Learn To Do One New Thing Every Year

 It's the start of a new year which means that people are going to be asking me, "So, Michelle, what's the one new thing this year?"

The answers are knitting and hand lettering. 

Many years ago I decided that I would learn to do one new thing every year. I don't even remember how or why this idea came into my head. I have always liked to learn things and try new things but felt somehow that I was a failure or a quitter because I kept flitting from thing to thing. The One New Thing concept made it possible for me to look like I was quitting on purpose.

Sometimes life is all about the story you are telling yourself.

I noticed that I did not have a bunch of unfinished projects lying around. So I wasn't just a quitter or failing when I looked at it in detail. In fact, I would work like mad to complete something I had started. If I was working on planting a garden or painting a room, I would skip workouts, neglect email, and forget to eat. So why couldn't I stick with one thing long enough to become a master of it? Why was it that I felt like I was always just dabbling around the edges of things?

When I got around to giving this some serious thought one day several years ago, I realized that I liked particular parts of projects and it kind of resembled being in love.

I would be smitten with something and not be able to stop thinking about it. 

I would want to know every single thing about my new love. 

I wouldn't be able to stop thinking or talking about this newly found passion. 

I would lose track of time.

Eventually, I would feel like I knew this awesome thing pretty well. 

The new thing became...less interesting. 

One day, after completing a project I would decide to break up. 

Oh, look at that handsome thing over there! 

I'd embark on a new creative relationship. 

What in the world is wrong with me? I know people who are experts and artisans in things that they are passionate about. My husband is like this about the Civil War in general and the Battle of Chickamauga in particular. I have always envied the person who had found that one true thing that they could do forever and never tire of. I was a little concerned about adult ADHD or just a short attention span. An adult should be able to stick with things, right?

Maybe. Some things. But here's what I like:


Research and learning new things. 

Finished projects. 

Adding things to my skill set.  

Sharing what I've learned. 

After years of being frustrated with myself, I realized that being an expert or gaining mastery in any one thing to the exclusion of everything else didn't interest me.  I wanted, most of all, to experience the world in a broad sense of the word and was afraid I'd miss something if I chose that one thing. That one terrifying thing.

Which brings us back to One New Thing. About 25 years ago I decided that every year I would learn how to do something new. It was a loose concept at first but became more concrete over time. Most years there was actually more than one thing but I did strive to have an official goal in mind. One year I baked bread every Saturday. One year I learned enough Italian to get me through my first trip to Italy. A couple of years ago it was singing in public--not karaoke. You can read about that experience here. I have quilted, gardened, kept bees, painted furniture, stripped furniture, cooked, decorated, composted, blogged, photographed, written, made motivational videos, and become a docent at the art museum and a master gardener.

That's not even a complete list but at some point, I just look like a crazy person. 

Along the way, I did find a few things that have come to stay forever like the passionate lover who remains a trusted friend.  Gardening is like that. So is beekeeping. And writing. Maybe because these are things that can never really be completed, but maintain a constant sense of mystery and a desire to improve. In my doing so many things I eventually ran across the things that I could stick with and love the most.

I'm sharing this with you because I have a feeling there are some of you out there who need to know that it's okay to be multi-passionate and there is nothing wrong with you. It's okay to keep learning, growing, and exploring.

Being a life long learner and discoverer might be, after all, a kind of expertise in itself. 

 What would you like to learn that you haven't yet?

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