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Perhaps I Can Do What I Thought I Couldn’t.

Some time ago, I read a blog post that exposed a flaw in how I think.

Rodin's The Thinker at the Musée Rodin.

I don't think I could...wait, why not? (Image via Wikipedia)

Actually, that last sentence exposes a flaw in how I write. I am not aware of any websites devoted specifically to my personal mental health or patterns of thought. What I read was actually about the writer’s first experience creating an artistic piece of blown glass. Reading it made me think about the way I look at the world.

As I read about the author taking on the task of learning the art of glass blowing, it occurred to me that I see people do things like that and think “that is amazing, I could never do that.” I translate thoughts like that one in my mind as if people are born with those skills in place.

I know that people learn from other people. If you asked me where glass blowers come from, I’d tell you they learn from people skilled in that art. Deep down in my psyche lives a part of me that thinks some people are just born able to do some things.

Babies Don’t Know As Much As I Give Them Credit For

Stone Mountain Park - Glass Blowing 10

I don't know what to do with this. (Image by Capt Kodak via Flickr)

That part of my psyche convinces itself that there are some babies who see long tubes and blobs of hot glass and instinctively know what to do with it. These babies grow up to be artists in that medium. It would never occur to me to learn to do blown glass, I was not one of those babies. Those other babies got that gig.

That isn’t the case though, is it? People take an interest and find someone who can help them follow the interest.

When interest turns to skill, it is easy for the person possessing that skill to minimize it. At the same time, others who observe that skill come to believe it is an innate gift – something they could never possess.

Trying Something Different

I have a specialized assignment at work. I am a hostage negotiator. After twenty-three years of working in that field, I have begun to allow myself to say I am very good at it.

I was not born that way. I did not, while still in diapers, instinctively find my way to bridges and hold conversations with suicidal people. I learned my specialty from capable people and I worked hard to become adept at it. Education and effort paid off. I am very good at what I do.

Still, it amazes me to talk to people who I know to be incredibly bright who say  “I could never do what you do”. I know better. Yes, you could. The funny thing is that, though I’d insist I could teach you what I do, I’d probably be as insistent that I couldn’t do what you do. How is that fair?

I’m going to start doing myself a favor. I’m hoping you’ll join me in doing the same thing. I’m going to stop denying my ability to learn things and get to finding people who will teach me what I want to know how to do.

What do we have to lose by doing that? We’re sure not gaining anything by sitting back in awe of the rest of the world.

Maybe you were one of those babies and you don’t know it.

I think I was.

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44 Comments on “Perhaps I Can Do What I Thought I Couldn’t.”

  1. Snoring Dog Studio says:

    Don’t underestimate your innate gift for talking to people and relating to their struggles. I don’t believe that can be taught. There is something in you that cannot be imparted by teaching. I could teach someone how to paint watercolor, but it would be teaching technique – they’d have to find their own voice and expression that would make them different. Someone tried to teach me how to do pottery once. I failed miserably. Something was missing in me! I paid a lot of money to sit in a pile of gooey clay at my feet.

  2. Life is so much about not only what we think but even how we say it. I recently came into my own realization where I was using “if” when I should have been saying “when.” I try now to change that and it helps make me more committed to doing the things I want to do.

  3. madtante says:

    You’re not quite right: you cannot train me to do maths and sciences that require maths. I have a learning disability and that part of my brain does NOT function (literally, the neurons don’t fire or travel–whatever it is).

    BUT I am always going on about how you can train very low IQ people to do much. Extend that to average and above average people? Yes. You can train anybody for most things. Babies are awesome. Watching a toddler on her own, mimicking things that “take care of business” enthralls me. They learn so much we’re not even aware of teaching — which we should always remember since they get the bad with the good!

    You probably can do 99% of anything you never thought was “for you.”

  4. k8edid says:

    I’m a nurse and a lot of people tell me they couldn’t do what I do. And maybe they aren’t cut out for it. They could, however, likely be trained to do it. Some, however, possess the perfect combination of training, skill, compassion, empathy, and caring to do it right.

  5. Todd Pack says:

    Great post, Oma. What’s the old saying? “He who says it cannot be done should shut up and listen to the guy who’s doing it.” Could I climb Everest? No, not today. Not a chance. Could I get in shape and start training? Sure! (Would I want to? No. I read “Into Thin Air.” I ain’t no dummy.)

  6. Sheryl says:

    I have been a professional artist for going on 30 years. I have taught kindergartners to seniors and I firmly believe that everyone can learn to paint well enough to satisfy their soul. My example to them, the first lesson, is that you do not pick up a clarinet and expect to play it without hours and hours of practice, so why should you not expect to spend hours painting before you get where you are happy?

    I feel this goes for anything. It’s all in the practice.

    • omawarisan says:

      Interesting point! Is your art art when your soul is satisfied or when mine is? I think a lot of people would look outside themselves, but nothing happens until you’re fulfilled, right?

      • Jane says:

        Finally, a good definition of “art.” My soul tends to be satisfied with even my most pathetic attempts, so that means art happens when something outside of me satisfies my soul.

        No, wait. The elegant oaks in New Orleans’ City Park satisfy my soul. Trees don’t care about people’s souls and they don’t classify as art, I don’t think.

        Well now, see what you’ve done. Some darned tree fell in a forest somewhere, and I didn’t hear it. Philosophical thinking is hard to turn off.

  7. Z.N. Singer says:

    All the qualifiers the above commentors made are correct – but this is still a great post with a great point. I spent a very long time convinced I could never learn to draw well, but my new college is showing me otherwise. I have definitely come to see several skill sets that I once viewed just as you described – an ‘other person’ skill set – as something within my reach after all. Mind you, not everything. I know certain kinds of detailed drawings I couldn’t do, because I completely lack the patience to do it right. But I can still learn to make something good my own way. I really liked this one.

  8. Lenore Diane says:

    Excellent post, Oma. I tend to agree with what you said, then I wonder if I am being naive. I do believe one can learn almost anything – provided the want to learn it – master it – etc. I think a desire and/or a passion needs to exist to enable us to learn things.

    I believe one is more receptive to learning when the interest exists. Maybe that fact is obvious.

    Coincidentally, I worked in a glass gallery for over 10yrs. I am fascinated with glass artists like Dale Chihuly, Harvey Littleton, William Morris, Josh Simpson, etc.You could learn how to blow glass, because it is something that interests you. And, being in NC, you have access to Penland. Just do it.

    I had such a crush on Bill Morris … his work is phenomenal.

    • omawarisan says:

      My Dad told me back when I was riding the bench in Little League that a person doesn’t get to be a baseball player by putting a uniform on. I think he was speaking to the desire and passion you’re referring to.

      I’m with you on the interest too. I’ve watched my son since he left for college. He was a pretty good student in high school, but now that he is focused on his interest and passion he had found another academic gear I don’t think he knew he had.

  9. Inquiring minds want to know: what’s on your list?

  10. Debbie says:

    I’ve always thought there was more than one field in which most of us could succeed. That is, if the time, interest, and desire were there. You’ve said it well, and I’m in awe of people who do life-saving work like you. Who’s to say whether nature or nurture is more important in a child’s development?

    • omawarisan says:

      Right, but we find one of those fields and that is where we stay. Perhaps the benefit of that stability is hitting a point in life where you look around and decide there is more out there?

      That particular facet of my work is something I will miss terribly when I retire and start a new career. I am actually a little scared of life without those 2:30 wake up calls.

  11. Yes you can! Love the message!

  12. Laura says:

    We moved a lot when I was growing up, so I basically made a new set of friends every year. There were always two kinds of kids: kids who knew how to ride a bike, and kids who didn’t. I never saw any of my friends learn to ride a bike, so it never occurred to me that this was a skill that anyone could learn. I finally learned to ride when I was 30.

  13. Kim says:

    Wayne Dyer has a book out about setting intentions. When Dyers books all started to the sound the same I shelved them but someone passed this along to me (books on tape, actually) and I have found it to be inspiring.
    My brother-in-law found a passion for making wine a few years ago–it’s very labor intensive and his wine is not that great-which he freely admits…when I asked him why he goes to all the trouble he said, “well you gotta do something so I decided to learn to make wine. It’s not very good but each batch gets a little better.” My brother-in-law is pretty smart. Go For It.

  14. Great advice and so true.

    Now I demand five million dollars and a helicopter or the Jolie gets it–show us your mojo. 🙂

  15. Spectra says:

    I am of the idea that nature has most of this figured out for us. When our interests are peaked,when we get excited about something, we follow a path of learning and doing. The result is (hopefully) a well-balanced and functioning society.

    And, Yeh, I’m with Stazyk. Let’s see you negotiate the Jolie’s release!

  16. Pie says:

    This is a brilliant post, Oma.

    As almost everyone has said here, it’s the happy alchemy of interest, training, a lot of practice and, in addition for some of us, a natural aptitude, which enables us to do what we can do very well. It’s also what drives us to take on a new hobby/career.

    Wasn’t there a sportsman who once said “The more I practice, the luckier I get.”? I also read a quote somewhere that said “The better you become at something, the more you enjoy it.” I believe that to be absolutely true. I try to remember those quotes whenever I get into a state of panic at my swimming lessons, because I’m conquering my very deep fear of water, or when I go for a particular movement in ice skating and can’t master it (initially). It’s great to be able to change your way of thinking so you can go for what you really want to do and be limitless. I will do my level best to not tell myself “I could never do that” when I meet someone who is so brilliant at their job or hobby. The singing lessons are imminent. Thanks, Oma.

    • omawarisan says:

      Overcoming that fear is a big deal, I’m pulling for you!

      It is a combination of things that makes us successful, but the things that are not in the combination are talking ourselves out of success.

  17. We found him Captain!! says:

    The day you hit that triple was your first time at bat and the first pitch thrown to you. I could see the fury of that ball as it sailed (almost) over the outfield fence.

    You and I learned something that day. I still get a lump in my throat when I think of the look on your face as you rounded the bases.

    This is a great subject and a marvelous blurt……You are good at your specialty not only because you had good training but mainly because you put your heart and soul into your job and have always gone the extra mile to help those in need.

    Write your book, play the guitar, write songs. Do as many things as you want to.
    Those of us who know you best, are so very proud of you.

  18. planetross says:

    Another twist on this could be people who make things look so easy that other people just assume the skill is easy to do.
    … but only when they try to do it, do they realize that it is a skill hard learned or innately achieved … or a bit of both.


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