No New is Bad News

we owe it to ourselves and the human race to never stop learning

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Ian Kloster

Consider this: Scientists around the world tell us that children have a 500% easier time learning a second language than adults. Furthermore, they say children can acquire basic verbal skills in a secondary language roughly 6,000 times faster than their fully grown counterparts.

Now consider the well-documented theory that I’m writing this at the very last minute and I’m far too lazy to Google real statistics on the acquisition of second languages at various ages, and also that I love making up statistics. This theory has proven true in 98.7 percent of my clinical tests.

When you learn something new, you get more than a new skill. You get the confidence to learn more.

Putting the technical jargon aside, I think we can all agree that I’m mostly 100 percent right. Kids have an easier time learning certain things than do most adults. As she grows, a child’s brain is wired like a little knowledge receptacle. Once you get to my age, your brain is just wired in different ways. It’s not so much geared for intuitively absorbing knowledge and physical skills as it is geared for lusting after donuts, trying to absorb every piece of television ever created by Joss Whedon, and trying to think of hilarious things to say on Facebook.

Or maybe that’s just me.

One thing’s for sure – lately I’ve been thinking a lot about somersaults. Why? Because just the other night, my three-year-old son just up and did his first somersault like there was nothing to it, and now he’s pretty much got it down. Yeah, we’d shown him how, but he hadn’t been real interested. Then all of a sudden – boom –  The Somersault Kid was born.

On the other hand, my six-year-old daughter has yet to figure it out and seems a little sad that her brother learned first. I was trying to explain to her that different people learn things at different times when I heard myself saying, “Sometimes it takes longer to learn things. I mean, I still can’t do a somersault.”

And then it hit me. I’m really bad at somersaulting. Like, really bad. I over-think it and end up rolling all sideways, tipping over lamps and coffee tables and other people. I just never mastered it. I can remember a gymnastics section in my high school Phy. Ed. class. I couldn’t do anything in that class. We all had to develop our own gymnastics routine incorporating basic maneuvers and, oh holy crap, am I glad no one filmed the presentations. Gabby Douglas I was not.

And now I wonder if I’ve missed my window. Will I ever do a good somersault? It’s not a particularly useful skill in my line of work, but what if ninjas attack the office and I need to run and dive into a somersault to save our web developer from a vicious samurai sword assault? Sorry, Mr. Web Developer – you’re sushi.

For me, the benefit of learning new things – at any age – goes beyond fending off the occasional urban ninja attack. When you learn something new, you get more than a new skill. You get the confidence to learn more.

As I’m sure you remember reading in a prior column (you frame and mount each one in your dining room, right?) I once watched a YouTube video and taught myself how to replace the computer in my kitchen oven, allowing me to save hundreds of dollars and avoid doing the dishes before a repairman came. The effect this had on my self-esteem was ... fantastic. 

With nothing more than sheer determination, a phillips head screwdriver, and a factory-direct part ordered via the Internet, I was able to replace an important kitchen appliances’s most expensive and complex component. What a rush! I felt as though nothing was beyond my capability. I could achieve anything – from brain surgery to unclogging the bathroom sink. I was invincible! I was Michaelus Paulusonian – God of Stove Repair! 

Then I watched some TV and went to bed. 

Learning new things, no matter what that thing may be, gives you a tremendous sense of well being. Sure, you might feel like a complete idiot at first, but once you get even a little bit confident at something new, the instant high you feel can sustain you to the next stage and beyond. I think this is a high to which we should all get addicted.

If we adults stop learning new things, we’ll end up in a world where babies can speak five languages, allowing them to communicate behind our backs and develop plans to steal our donuts and televisions.

And we can’t let that happen, people. We just can’t.

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