What New Tricks Should This Old Dog Learn?
March 17, 2016 7:02 AM   Subscribe

I'm an early middle-aged creative professional who's feeling like I've reached a sort of professional plateau, and looking to learn some new things (skills, activities, etc.) that would be a.) engaging, mentally or otherwise and b.) not too costly or time-consuming — I don't have 10,000 hours to become expert in anything besides what I already am and c.) might even open new perspectives on life, my job, etc. Although professional development per se is not the goal. I've thought about another language, but I'm not feeling the particular pull of any *one* in particular. I did guitar a while back and, while I enjoyed it enough, I never felt I wanted to go further. Some kind or art or craft — but which? Or should I try to 'go back' and conquer some academic subject I was always bad at/afraid of (math in general). What new things have people learned that they found particularly rewarding? What sorts of skills might not only be fun to learn but provide some kind of hidden, ancillary benefits? Thanks in advance for your suggestions!
posted by dearleader to Education (15 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried writing classes? I was at a similar juncture and signed up for a course which turned out to be taught by a legendary creative writing teacher. That was a very transformative experience for me. Other courses, not so much; you have to find a good one or at least one that clicks with you.
posted by BibiRose at 7:11 AM on March 17, 2016

Sketching and drawing. Quite portable, relatively inexpensive. All you need is a sketch pad (which come in many sizes) and drawing implements. I recommend starting with pencils and a good eraser. Take them everywhere, sketch whenever you have a few spare moments. Sketch your hands, sketch people at a café, sketch the scene before you while sitting on a bench somewhere.

My mother is a professional artist and maintains that sketching and drawing is a skill anyone can learn with practice. Indeed I don't consider myself an artist in any similar capacity, but she's complimented me on how well I draw rabbits, cats and dogs because we've had many of them as pets over the years and I've practiced. It has the added benefit of making you quite observant of the world around you, and appreciative of the little things, the small beauties in life.
posted by lizbunny at 7:18 AM on March 17, 2016 [4 favorites]

Would something physical be of interest? Train to run a 5k, sign up for a yoga class, take up outdoor swimming (if you live somewhere cold enough for that to be an unusual challenge). These all involve learning new things about yourself but don't require mastery, and can take you out of your everyday routines in a different way to more cerebral activities.
posted by penguin pie at 7:29 AM on March 17, 2016

Statistics! I'm about your age and I just took a couple of stats classes. It's a good way to stretch your brain and makes reading things like articles about polls much more interesting.
posted by mcduff at 7:44 AM on March 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm stractching my itch with Learn Python the Hard Way.
posted by Snazzy67 at 8:02 AM on March 17, 2016

I highly, highly recommend trying improv classes or community theater acting workshops. These are skills that can be learned -- like math or languages -- and they can give you access to a part of yourself you didn't even know you had. That goes double if (as it sounds like) your career and skills-building has been focused on knowledge work and left-brain activities. You might find that you gain confidence, ability to improvise, better people-reading skills, and new ways of creative thinking in many unrelated areas of your life.
posted by ourobouros at 8:07 AM on March 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

I go to figure drawing groups in my area. For the shared cost of a model (usually ~$15) it's really challenging and completely gets me out of my head for awhile.

Also, sailing. Not sure where you are, but we joined a sailing club several years ago and learned to sail. We've learned about wind, weather, sailing (obviously), and a lot of other esoteric things related to the history and geography of sailing. It gets us out on the water, and we've met a lot of wonderful people. The great thing about the club is that you get to sail a lot of different boats without the headache of owning one. I highly recommend it!
posted by Gusaroo at 8:30 AM on March 17, 2016

Building on the suggestion to take on a physical challenge, have you considered picking up a new skill set in the kitchen? It takes far less than 10,000 hours to get quite good at a new type of cuisine. I can imagine all sorts of angles to this. Maybe you want to learn how to mimic a favorite regional style of cooking, or even experiment with learning and combining two regions (I love Gujarati AND southern soul food, I want to invent a hybrid!). Maybe you want to heed the UN's advice about the energy intensity of the modern western diet and learn to be a whiz at vegetarian/vegan dishes. Maybe you want to recalibrate your sense of health and nutrition, so you have a consultation with a registered dietician (etc.) and set some goals, like cooking without oil several days per week.

Apologies if these suggestions seem pedantic and public health-y. My career colors these suggestions.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 8:33 AM on March 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm in a similar position and I've thought about learning to create 3D models using free software (e.g. Sketchup) and then 3D printing them using a service like Shapeways. I've considered purchasing my own 3D printer but I greatly suspect it would end up mostly unused, so the Shapeways approach seems like a good balance between skill-development and cost.
posted by StephenF at 9:13 AM on March 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

You could learn to knit/crochet/sew. It's a craft, helps build dexterity, and if you get decent enough at it you can make things for yourself or for friends/family members. It also doesn't require that much time, money, or effort to learn. I taught myself how to knit and crochet by reading and watching internet tutorials.

Learning a language is also good, even if you don't feel drawn to a particular language. In general, I've heard it's a good way to keep your brain sharp. What languages do you already know? Are there any countries you're particularly interested in visiting? Duolingo is free and pretty fun. Just pick whatever language appeals to you and give it a shot. If you know Spanish, for example, you could pick up Italian because it's relatively similar, or for something that's a bigger challenge, go for a non romance language like German.

For something physical, I recently decided I wanted to pick up roller blading again, for example. There's also ballroom or other dance classes.
posted by litera scripta manet at 9:47 AM on March 17, 2016

I'd like to recommend crossword puzzles and origami. Both benefit your brain, but origami in particular can improve your sense of space, patience, timing, and dexterity/fine motor skills.
posted by juliplease at 12:39 PM on March 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Rock polishing/tumbling

Seconding cooking - right now I'm focusing only on poaching fish and using different sauces (as an example). Limiting the goal makes it less overwhelming. Bonus side effect: food is created.

Silver smithing (look for jewelry classes in your area) if you like designing and playing with fire and power tools.

Soap Stone carving (yes, you can do it easily - everything you need in this kit for $36)

Scuba? opens up fun vacation options and you might get quite interested in reading about underwater stuff.

posted by bluesky78987 at 1:20 PM on March 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

Highly recommend learning another language because you gain so much more than just a new way to communicate - you learn HOW to learn a language more than you learn the target language. You can then use this knowledge of how you best learn a language to go on and pickup other languages with greater ease, as well as apply the insight you gain into other areas of your life.

In my mid to late 20's I learnt Indonesian, Arabic, and Portuguese (in that order, as well as a couple of dialects tacked on to each) and gained so much insight about myself (how I learn, how I perceive the world via my first language, how others view my culture) as well as insight into other cultures (values, internal lives, desires, fears). Learning vocab and grammar is a start, but learning a language in a way that is fruitful requires an approach that exposes you to the linguaculture the target language resides within. Which is great, because you get to meet interesting people, eat awesome food, and gain a new perspective on yourself and the world.

In terms of the language you choose to learn, it helps to take into account your aptitude for learning a language, the commitment you are able to make, and the resources you are able to access. Ultimately, aptitude and resources are less important than commitment. As long as you make some sort of regular commitment, you can make it work regardless of aptitude and resources.

If you chose to learn a language, I recommend taking as diverse approach as possible by doing more than just relying on an app or a book: consume content in the target language even if you don't understand it, eat food from locations where the language is used, read non-fiction and fiction about and by the cultures that use the language, engage with people who use the language (IRL, online, scheduled, vicariously, etc). You don't have to do all of that to be successful (although it helps), but you do have to commit doing it regularly and making it a part of your daily routine.

Learning other languages has opened up new creative avenues and has helped me grow as a human. Very fulfilling, cannot recommend highly enough.
posted by Outside Context Problem at 3:58 AM on March 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

Learn sign language!
posted by divabat at 7:49 PM on March 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Find something you like which you now allow others to make or do, and learn to make/do it yourself. Learning to cook something new (as mentioned above) would be a good place to do this: it's how I started making ice cream, for example.

For me, brewing beer from a Northern Brewer kit scratched this itch. Another day I bought a Mora knife for $16, found a green stick, and carved a very serviceable spoon. Another time I was in a local sort-of crafts store and came upon some inexpensive leather, which I bought a made into a bag like this (only cheaper).

There's a movement called bushcraft where folks head outdoors and learn or teach themselves simpler skills like fire-starting, wood-carving, making shelter, first aid, etc. These are very satisfying to many people because they are useful, and also very tactile; just yesterday, that site featured a thread about "bushcraft as meditation."

I am leery of ideas like SCUBA diving because I could die doing them: simpler hand skills are easier to acquire and less dangerous. :7) But I am a homebody like that...
posted by wenestvedt at 12:56 PM on March 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

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