When Bill Gates was running Microsoft, his idea of a vacation was to escape to his cabin on a lake and read research papers day and night for a week or so. I remember laughing to myself and thinking, “What kind of vacation is that?” At a certain point in life, most of us become quite absorbed with our work, and then learning can take a back seat. Mr. Gates realized this and forced himself to take a week each year to learn.
Learning a new twist on old skills
Recently I had the unique opportunity to drive my car at Road America, a four-mile race course in the rolling hills of Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine. On the surface, that might not sound like a learning opportunity and going into the two-day event I didn’t really view it that way either. I thought to myself, “I’ve been driving for 34 years and consider myself to be a good driver.” But nothing could have prepared me for the experience of driving on a closed course. I had a great deal to learn and practice over the course of those two days.
Before we got anywhere near the track, there were two hours of classroom sessions and an hour-long exercise to learn proper breaking techniques. I then spent 30 minutes on the track with an instructor in the passenger seat talking me through four miles of track and 14 corners. While I was never scared, it was unnerving to realize how unlike driving on public roads it was. It was then that I dedicated myself to spending the balance of the two days learning and practicing at every opportunity to both maximize the fun of the event and learn a new skill.
Do it, think about it, do it again, repeat forever
Over the course of the driving and safety school, I spent three and half more hours on the track with my instructor in the seat beside me. After each 30-minute session, we’d discuss what I’d done right and – more importantly – what I’d done wrong. At the end of the first day, my instructor gave me an assignment. I was to sit quietly in my hotel room with a track map and drive the entire track in my mind. Then I was to close my eyes and visualize the experience without the benefit of the map. It was more difficult than I thought it would be. Four miles is a lot of track to memorize.
That time spent visualizing the track proved to be one of the milestone moments in my learning. On our first run on the second day, my instructor concluded our post-session discussion by complimenting me on having taken the time to learn the track. It’s important to know where you will be going (on the track or in life) so that you can focus on looking forward to the opportunities and dangers along your chosen course. I had four more 30-minute sessions on the track that day and with each one I became more confident of my skills because of the repeated practice and discussion following the laps.
Never quit learning, never
Today I compare my track driving skills to the game of chess. I know the rules and I can play the game but it will take me a lifetime of learning to become a great track driver. Now that I know I enjoy the activity, I’ll head out to three new tracks next year and return to Road America to see how much I’ve learned and improved.
Learning, however, can be difficult and frustrating. That first day of classroom, exercises and track time was exhausting and overwhelming at times. With any new skill, the initial learning period can be like that. There is a certain set of base skills you need to do any activity with competence. Learning that group of skills is not easy and at times perhaps not even fun. The reward for that learning is being good at something you were not even sure you could do going into it.
I now thirst for knowledge about track driving the same way I thirst for knowledge about eating a gluten-free diet, developing WordPress websites or creating inbound marketing. The process is the same in all cases.
Please leave a comment about the activities you are taking the time to learn through practice and perseverance.