What have you done differently lately? Taken up swordfishing, mastered Ancient Mandarin, scaled Mount Kilimanjaro? Right, me neither. But you have done something outside your usual routine lately, haven’t you? Good for...what do you mean, no? Pull up a chair; we need to chat.
Ruts: they’re so easy to fall into and so difficult to climb out of. They’re comfortable, familiar...numbing. And therein lies the problem. Your life is a gift from God—do you really think He meant for you to use that gift to sleepwalk? While it’s oh-so-tempting to trudge through life half-conscious, there is so much more life to be lived when you open yourself up to the possibilities. Fan the flame of even one small spark of curiosity and you could be the next Adam Steltzner...but that’s a story for later.
Now I realize crawling out of our ruts is easier said than done. After all, there are many things one must do on a regular basis: work, laundry, feed the cat, and so on. Habits (ruts under a friendlier name) can be helpful when it comes to, say, getting ready in the morning. I know if I didn’t have my morning routine down to a science I’d never get to work; I’m not functional enough at that hour to make decisions. But just because you’ve always done something the same way doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the way you should always do it.
Since this is back to school season, let’s focus on learning something new. There are classes on how to do just about anything these days. Is there something you’d like to know more about? Take a class! It doesn’t need to be an accredited degree program from a major university; an afternoon or evening one-session class can be a great (and low-cost) way to start. As a side benefit, when you find a class about something you think is interesting you find a group of classmates who share your interest. You could meet interesting people and make new friends. Who knows, maybe your special someone is on the class roster. What’s the worst that could happen? Even if it all goes horribly wrong you’ll come out with a story to tell. If all goes well you could learn to change your own oil (your car’s oil, that is), take down a bad guy with your mad kickboxing skills, read the New Testament in the original Greek, or whatever floats your personal boat.
If you don’t have a burning desire to learn about anything in particular, try signing up for one (or more) of those daily deal email programs. They often have classes on offer and you might just find one you’d like to take, especially at a discount. That’s how my friends and I recently found ourselves in a glass studio standing around a hot furnace, carefully manipulating long tubes with blobs of molten glass on one end. Not only was it tons of fun, I now have a perfectly beautiful new bowl that I made myself (with a little help from the instructor). I just saw an offer for a beekeeping class that involves retrieving honey from a hive while wearing the full beekeeper/spaceman get-up. How fun would that be? I have no desire to keep bees but I like honey and wouldn’t it be interesting to see how the whole honey thing works? I think painting (pictures, not houses) could be next. Or cheese-making . . . or how to tile the bathroom floor . . . or maybe . . . the possibilities are endless.
If money is too tight for class tuition even at a discount, try learning something new from someone you know. Earlier this month a friend’s brother decided he wanted to learn to make his family’s recipe for enchiladas, so he persuaded his sister to give a hands-on demo to him and his friends. Not only did the guys pick up a new, useful skill, everyone enjoyed a fun and delicious evening.
I’ve found most people who are really good at something enjoy sharing their skills with someone who is truly interested. So be interested! (Interest in others makes you more interesting, too.) Share the love: you might be able to trade lessons with a friend or even start a group where everyone shares their particular skill.
If you’re a hermit and the thought of socializing with even like-minded people frightens you, there are less stressful ways to begin learning new skills. Check for online courses in your area of interest. You could start with something as simple as throwing a wild card into your reading habits. If you always read fiction, try a biography of someone you admire. If you’re a non-fiction person, check out a great novel. (Ask your librarian for ideas.)
You can even teach yourself new tricks. I decided to enter a cooking contest this summer and in the process taught myself to make tortillas from scratch. Did I win? Nope, didn’t even make the finals. Did I have a blast, learn a new skill, create a delicious new recipe, and make new friends along the way? Why yes, I did.
The point is, you don’t have to completely change your life. Just try something new once in a while. You might set a goal of learning something new once a month, just to keep your brain from going dormant. You never know what may happen when you open yourself up to learning new things. You may find a new passion, maybe even a new career. Adam Steltzner did.
Adam was a below-average student whose own father told him he’d never amount to anything. After finally graduating from high school he played bass in local bands, hoping to end up as a rock star. Until one night Adam looked up at the sky and got curious about a different kind of star. How was it the constellation Orion could be in a different place in the sky on the way home from his gig than it had been on the way there? That curiosity led him sign up for a physics class at a junior college. That class led to another and another and eventually to a doctoral degree in engineering physics and a job as team leader at NASA for the recently-landed Mars Curiosity.
Climb out of that rut. Learn something new. Take the road less traveled and see where it takes you. When you get there, send me a postcard!
Susan Ellingburg is a natural-born Texan who sings at every opportunity, reads as much as possible, and cherishes every day she gets to spend with friends. She's a serious foodie and not-so-serious gardener who is determined not to let being single stand in the way of living an amazing life. Read Susan's blog at TastingGod.wordpress.com.
Publication date: September 6, 2012