A few years ago, I decided I would make speedskating my winter sport. You know, speekskating – that sport that you only see during the winter Olympics and is dominated by the Dutch: Skaters in sleek suits, super long blades on their remarkably elegant boots, giant quadriceps, tremendous grace combined with outragrous speed on an unforgivingly hard and slippery surface. Yes, I thought, that’s the sport for me. Well not actually that form of the sport, rather a recreational, long distance format appealed to me and so during our traditional family outings to a beautiful alpine lake, I began taking a few lessons. That was 2010.
Jump to 2013. This summer I decided I needed to do more in the direction of developing my ice skating capabilities. I opted for lessons in inline skating. I had successfully avoided this over the last three years with entirely plausible reasons: not enough time, it’s too dangerous, it’s not the same…and so on. But the instructor I contacted proved persistant and eager and I simply couldn’t outrun my skating anxities any longer. It was time to hit (what a regrettable pun) the pavement. After three lessons, my newly appointed coach convinced me of the need to convert from traditional, pedestrian inline skates to the monster-wheeled and low-cut boots similar to the ones she typically sported. Well I was frightened and nervous and intrigued, and ultimately, game. By lesson 6 I was completing my first cross steps in the curve (crudely, mind you) and feeling reasonably stable when skating upright without too much attention to proper technique. I am of course not done with my lessons. Officially I have 2 more slots to schedule and the reality is that the lessons are really only beginning.
I mention all this to illustrate my larger point: learning is habit-forming. Consciously choosing to learn something implies investing time and effort with the intent of reaching some desired outcome: To understand another language, to reduce back pain, to relax… And once we get past the initial discomfort of feeling incompetent, naive and clueless, we can often begin to count our first advances large and small. There’s improvement. Some parts become easier while we expose ourselves to greater challenges. We’re not there yet, but we’re no longer lingering at the start. We have made progress. There’s growth. We’re learning. Even with setbacks, obstacles, false starts and dead ends, if we are truly alive, these experiences also create and deepen our learning.
Within the next two years I hope to participate in my first distance speedskating event. There is a lot of ground to cover between now and then. My goal is to enter and finish and to have mastered enough of the necessary technique to perform without injuring myself (or anyone else, for that matter). In the meantime, I celebrate the mini-successes along the way: skating downhill without panicking, daring to fall on my backside in order to stop…My life is richer for taking the repeated risk of learning something new. I’m hooked. Learning is my serious habit.