I had occasion this week to try to list my household’s various skill-sets. I won’t go into it here; it smacks too much of braggadocio. Likewise, if the past forty years are any indication, the list will likely be wildly obsolete by this time next week. Suffice it to say, my wife and I both admire the classical idea of the Renaissance Man, and strive towards that ideal.
On multiple occasions, however, we have been asked how we go about starting to learn a new skill. This is a much more complex question; the simplest answer is, “it depends.” It depends on which of us is learning the skill. How we’re trying to learn it (I’m better at book-learning; my wife prefers to be shown how). How badly we want to learn it, and how much time we can devote to practicing. Whether it’s related to/similar to anything we’ve already learned how to do. Phase of the moon, what houses the various planets are in, the state of the tides, the approximate airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow… There are almost too many variables to list.
Perhaps the most important factor, though, is attitude. Neither of us tends to approach learning with an “I can’t do that” attitude; rather, we tend towards the “I wonder how I can do that,” or at worst “I can’t do that yet.” Surprisingly often, also, we start some endeavor not knowing that we don’t necessarily know how to accomplish it (most often, starting with the simple thought, “Here’s something that needs doing…”).
To back up for a moment, though, an important part of learning a new skill is learning how to learn. (As a former instructor, I’ve found that while most people can tell you how they learn best, probably less than half of them are right.) Take some time to think about your learning; do you pick things up easily by reading them? From a teacher or class? Watching it on Youtube? Just diving in and messing with the tools? Practice is always (always always) helpful, but until you’ve picked up the basics, you don’t really have anything to practice.
As I mentioned, my preference is for “book-learning,” followed by watching a demonstration of the task. Do I have favorite books? Yep. I’d list them, but I’ve probably got a different one (or several) for just about each of the various skills I’ve tried my hand at… I’ve found a couple of pretty good “all-in-one” books–none, unfortunately, are in my library at present–but they tend to be a) few and far between, and b) maddeningly vague on certain points–usually the very points I have questions. Case in point: Readers Digest’s Back to Basics (I’ve owned the second edition; the link is to the third edition). Tons and tons of great information, but just when I need specifics, they tend to go really vague.
To drag things back around to my original goal, if asked “where does one start with all this,” I’d be hard-pressed not to give a flippant answer: at the beginning. If you’re asking the question, you’ve already taken the first step. My more serious response: pick a spot (at random, if need be), and start researching and learning. Just dive in; the worst that can happen (if you keep your wits about you) is that you learn something you didn’t expect.