In which I take a photo every day that I'm 50, and post it here on this blog, with a bit of related blurb.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Day 234 - Shoulders of Giants

work less, climb more

One of the most significant and valuable life lessons I ever learned was the incredible power of active learning. 

I had an epiphany one day in the early 1990's, that has had a profound and ongoing impact on my life ever since.

As a child, I'd always been musical, able to coax a tune out of any instrument without really trying...I could have made a career in music, if ever I'd bothered to apply myself.  But my youthful arrogance told me that I ought to be able to play anything easily - and therefore, I shouldn't need to practise. 

The ultimate impact of this little psychological, illogical thought pattern was that I never learned to play any instrument properly.

I had clarinet lessons and piano lessons, classical guitar lessons, French horn lessons and percussion each case, I started reasonably well, as I could pick things up easily...but as I didn't practise, I made no progress and quickly fell behind what was reasonably expected, and so would drop the instrument and move on to another one. 

This carried on until I was in my late 20's, when for the first time in my life, I bought an electric guitar, which I'd never played before (I'd dabbled on the acoustic guitar over the years, and knew a few party pieces, but I was never all that enamoured with it, and of course I didn't practise!).

In my head, I placed huge value on playing by feel, and (again, illogically) equated this with not learning or honing technique, and neither learning nor applying theory and knowledge of music. 

Somehow (in my head), it was a good thing to not know what I was doing. 

As I later realised, not knowing what I was doing actually meant that I was unable to express myself fluently - I just didn't have the musical vocabulary, nor the knowledge required to build one. 

Then at some point as I was dabbling in the electric guitar, I came across two articles that piqued my interest.

The first was about George Benson, the jazz guitarist.  In an interview he was asked how he learned to play jazz, and he said something like,

"Well, first I had lessons, and practised my scales day in and day out.  Then I learned theory, scales, modes, harmonic theory...but mostly, I played jazz all day, every day, for ten years...".

Another article, this time on Jimi Hendrix, who epitomised all I admired in his style of musicianship, talked about how hard he had studied and practised, learning scales and chords and paying his dues, musically...

My epiphany came when I realised how ridiculously arrogant I'd been in deciding that I shouldn't need to practise...

...if jazz legend George Benson, and even the late, great Jimi Hendrix had to study and practise in order to fully express themselves in their own unique ways, who on earth did I think I was to not need to do that?!

I immediately started to study and learn...and within 3 years I reached a professional standard of playing, developing my own, bluesy voice on the electric guitar along the way, and I was teaching and gigging much of the time through the mid 90's.

It was truly revelatory, and made me realise how much value there is in standing on the shoulders of giants.  

There is absolutely no point in reinventing the wheel - when you want to achieve something, simply go and find the latest, best information source, and learn how to do it properly from the beginning.  Actively research, learn from the collective wisdom of all who have gone before, and you can get to a lowly, yet functional level of competency in a new skill area in a remarkably short space of time.

In this way I've learned to play drums, to take better photographs, to build PC's, servers and networks...I'm learning to slackline, to skateboard, and to do Tai Chi...

And of course I've learned to climb...

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Being older than those around me when we started to learn to climb, I knew I couldn't keep up physically...but I realised that whilst I couldn't climb harder, I could climb smarter.

So I read voraciously on technique and theory, and tried hard to practise what I learned. 

When we started to venture outside, I devoured books on rope techniques and climbing hardware.   This meant that we could more or less venture out on our own straight away, and the lack of an experienced guide just added to the adventure. 

I feel sure that my tactic of actively learning about my current interest brings so much more value to the whole affair, that I can't imagine why you wouldn't do it.

It's enabled me to be confident and capable, and unafraid to turn my hand to new things...this year in particular, I'm reaping the rewards of this general philosophy, and I'm really grateful to have had the opportunity to learn such a valuable lesson.  

So this evening, I noticed that our collection of climbing books has grown rapidly.  We have guidebooks that map out the climbing in various locations...biographies, story books of one kind or another, on the adventurous climbing lifestyle...and importantly, reference and educational books.  

I could waffle about that for a bit, I thought, being short of inspiration for a post tonight...  

And as a nice little bonus, I got to (adventurously) take these photo's without moving from my chair!

I'm going to call it supreme efficiency...


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