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It's Time to Embrace Learning
“I don’t do that.”
“That’s not something I know how to do.”
“That's the sort of thing other people like—but not me.”
While it’s true there are many things I will never do (compete in the Olympics, be a Dallas Cowgirl, or make any craft worthy of Pinterest), there are many things I’m interested in learning, but haven’t given myself permission to explore.
Learning is something small children do well, but somewhere along the line, it takes intentionality to continue the process. To learn means admitting you don’t know how to do something. To learn means submitting to the expertise of someone who has invested their time, efforts, and resources in mastering the subject you’re pursuing. To learn means being willing to look stupid, and stupid again, as you attempt to grasp the basics.
I recently hired a personal trainer. My gym offers a free consultation with every membership, and since I just turned 50, I thought it would be worthwhile to give it a try. I didn’t expect to sign up for training. To be honest, I didn’t think I had much to gain from the consultation other than being able to use the fancy machine that tells you what percent of your body weight is fat, muscle, and water—I knew those tangible results would motivate me to kick my workouts into the next gear.
It turns out the trainer knew a few things. While I had spent years working hard on cardio, strength training, and burning calories, I’d completely ignored mobility, flexibility, and functional fitness. I was reasonably fit, but not in a particularly useful way. That first session, he showed me a few exercises that relieved pain I carried in my hips since I had my son, 17 years ago. I thought that pain would be with me forever; a consequence of birthing that 8 pound, 5 ounce baby in just three pushes. It turns out my hips were just terribly tight, and I needed to learn some techniques to loosen them up and gain range of motion.
I signed up for two months of training, which involved following a trainer less than half my age around the gym, allowing him to comment on my form, my strength (or lack thereof), and offer a plan for improvement. It also meant being the kind of person who would hire a personal trainer. Somehow, I thought people who worked with trainers were either rich, vain, overcoming an injury, or didn’t know their way around the gym. Sure, I’d learn from the instructors in group classes, or watch videos and find training routines on the internet, but one-on-one training seemed a bit...indulgent.
It turns out, those thoughts all point to one ugly character flaw: pride. The best way to fight against pride is through willingly humbling yourself—in this case by hiring trainer, and then actually listening to him. I didn’t necessarily take everything he said as gospel truth, but I allowed his expertise to increase my understanding so I could find a path toward better results.
It also required having different, more reasonable, goals. Instead of wanting to lose 20 pounds in two months or lay the foundation to be an ACSI certified trainer—aspirations my competitive nature might normally come up with—my goal was to gain strength, increase flexibility, and learn practical skills that could help my body work better. I met my goal.
This experience has led me to two conclusions:
To be an expert at anything, you first have to embrace being a learner, and all of the awkwardness that comes with that.
True experts are always learning. They know that seeking additional insight, deeper understanding, or admitting a gap in knowledge doesn’t compromise their “expert” status—it strengthens it.
Now, every time I hear myself think, “That’s not something I’d do,” I ask myself why. Sometimes it’s because I legitimately have no interest in the activity. But other times, I’ve simply never taken the time to try to do it.
I thought I'd have hip pain the rest of my life, but a trainer showing me a few simple moves relieved the pain forever. What other problems in our lives could be solved by asking the right person the right question—and then having the humility to listen to what they say?
Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise. — Proverbs 19:20
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