Beginners

This book merges the science of why learning over a lifetime can keep you nimble and happy with a first hand report of the author‘s adventures as a serial beginner.

Vanderbilt writes of his escapades in a conversational, dry, self-effacing manner that is laugh-out-loud funny. Behold sentences like – “I careened through this line with the control of a snake on ice and on the word ‘lucky,’ my voice trailed upward in a dying screech.”

He questions our tendency to pick up and stick with only things that we are good at or can excel at. Even in workouts, it seems like we’re all training hard for something but for what? What about dabbling for fun, for a new outlook and to enjoy the experience?

The book spans three of his endeavours – singing, surfing and drawing/ painting. Along the way, he crosses paths with individuals whose stories are revealing and moving. Singing, he learns, is a group activity that can bring people closer. A fellow singer in his Brit-Pop choir is going through a separation, another is undergoing treatment for cancer. Most would even second-guess moving cities for a good job if it meant leaving the choir behind. Learning, exploring and sharing that experience with others can be life-changing.

He dispels assumptions about what the adult brain is capable of and throws the doors open on your previously perceived self-limitations. You’re never too clumsy or too old or too un-talented to try something new. Your instructor can even be a decade younger than you but you oddly feel like the child, the novice in that situation. And as he comes to learn – passion is actually hard work plus commitment. 

I recently heard a friend express the sentiment that he missed the freedom and safety of being in film school and the reason is perfectly summed up by Vanderbilt – “There is something about attending a class… that strange, liberating feeling where your only job is to learn something.”

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