Goofy FaceWhen I’m learning or perfecting a skill, I take in every piece of it, view it from all angles, observe, question, seek supporting data, find potential danger zones or common mistakes, and then determine the best way forward to perfect the skill. I do all of this before I try the new skill myself.

This technique makes me appear to be “ a natural” at new things. Ever since I was a kid, people would be impressed with my entry level skills in anything from learning spanish to sculpting play-dough. To others, it appeared that I would be introduced to something new and on my first try, shizaam! I’m 80% proficient. In my first month of learning piano, I heard “You have a real talent!” and when I sunk the 8-ball in my first game of pool I heard “Wow! looks like a case of beginners’ luck!”

What these people didn’t realize was that before I ever played a song for an audience or picked up the pool cue, I studied others while they did it. I watched the way the player distributed his body weight when leaning over the pool table to line up a shot. I noted the various finger positions people used, and took note of the technique of the most accurate players. I imagined myself doing it from beginning to end. I played with a cue stick and felt the way the weight was distributed while others played. I watched the piano player’s body movements, tried to figure out what place she allowed her mind to travel to in order to best feel the music. I imagined my fingers trilling between notes or stretching up octaves.

My talent isn’t so much in the skill itself. My talent lies in my ability to know what to look for to acquire the skill.

And writing that last sentence has led me to an epiphany. Thank you blog. Since my talent is in the process of learning, that is what I enjoy most: the process. Once I have achieved sufficient success in something, I tend to drop it for a new challenge, never giving myself a chance to fully perfect it. It feels best to be learning something new, not doing something repeatedly that I already know I can do pretty well. Twenty-eight years of that and I have a closet full of art kits, sports equipment, project notebooks 1/4 used, and a war chest of about 283 useless skills (like juggling or solving a Rubix cube).

Realizing that, the greatest mystery to me is how running has managed to stay around for 15 years straight. I have reached a level of proficiency that warrants me abandoning it to pick up my old paint brushes for a couple months, right? And yet, I’m still committed to it. Even when I broke 15 minutes in the 5k in 2008 and secured a spot in the top 10 American women of all time, I didn’t think, “Ok, that was fun, time to apply to the Cordon Bleu.”

Either I haven’t reached the level I consider proficient, or running has moved from something I do to something I am; something independent of times or honors or achievement goals. So long as my body can run, I imagine I will keep running. And while I do, I have no choice but to continue painting and playing guitar and learning to speak Spanish, and whatever else satisfies my need to learn.