Take the Time to Learn

Don’t be fooled by the calendar. There are only as many days in the year as you make use of. One man gets only a week’s value out of a year while another man gets a full year’s value out of a week.
–Charles Richards

I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve picked up the guitar in order to learn how to play.  Or started learning the Kanji for Japanese (The set of symbols they use to write.) or picked up my pencil and started sketching, all with the intention of becoming great.  Most of the time I play a small song or draw a picture or complete whatever it is I’m doing and then promptly leave whatever tool I was using collecting dust for the next few months until the desire strikes me again.

I was thinking recently about why I did this.  It seems like such a strange and somewhat illogical behaviour.  Afterall, I do want to do these things, and I do want to get better at them.  Some of them I would really love to be great at, and yet…

And yet I just can’t bring myself to go back to work when I’ve finished with them from my spontaneous desire.  So I started to think about how I felt when I picked up the guitar to play another song and it dawned on me.  My thought process usually went like this:

I’d love to be great at the guitar -> I should play! -> Oh, that’s right…  I suck at playing the guitar -> I’ve been playing for months (This thought is especially suspicious since most of the time my ‘playing for months’ has really been me playing twice a month.  That’s not the same thing as playing for a full month.) -> It takes an excruciatingly long time to get good at the guitar -> I’m going to go make a sandwich.

I always get hung up on the fact that it’s going to take a long time for me to become any good at what it is I want to do.  All I can think about is how many years it will take before I’m any good, and inevitably I decide not to bother.  It’s just too much effort.

But, think about this:  You’re going to spend the time anyway.  You’re going to be around for the next five years whether you play the guitar or not.  Whether I decide to sit down and learn my Kanji or I decide to instead take a nap or make a sandwich, I’m going to have to spend the next five years doing something.  It makes sense that I put that time to good use.

While that’s true, it’s not that great of a motivator for me.  A better motivator I thought of was comparing the situation to money.  Think about investing your money.  If I came up to you today and said “Look, incredibly good-looking reader, I have this business proposition for you.  If you give me 20 dollars a day for the next two years, I’ll pay you 50 dollars a day for the rest of your life after that.” and I was absolutely serious about it, would you do it?

I’m willing to bet that you would.  That’s an excellent investment.  Sure, you’re spending a lot of money initially without any real payback, but after just one year past your investment period, you’ll have made your money back.  Plus I’ll keep paying you for the rest of your life!  That’s the easiest money you ever made, right?


So think of what you’re doing as an investment, one that pays you back for your initial hard work with a lifetime of benefit.  If you have something you want to become skilled at, put in that time while keeping in mind that once you’re good, you’re good.  You’ll never have to be a beginner again, and you get to enjoy everything that comes with being skilled at whatever you’re trying to learn.

In the case of a language spending that time is almost like opening an entirely different world for you to explore.  Some cultures are wildly different from our own and you will lose out on that cultural experience if you don’t know the language.

Just remember that if it were money, you would do it.  Treat it like it’s money and you will do it.  I’m starting to realize that it’s worth it in the end, no matter how miserable the starting up period or learning period is.  The end result is  almost always worthwhile.

Pay now, spend for the rest of your life.  Spend now, pay for the rest of your life.  Goals become so much more motivating when you look at it that way, don’t you think?

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