I have to say, this scared feeling took me by surprise because the nature of how I make my living is all about new starts. I work on a freelance basis in schools, usually for no more than a term. Sometimes, depending on how desperate for money I am and if I can’t get a contract that appeals to me, I even do the daily supply route. This takes new starts to a whole new level as it’s literally a different school every day.
Why then, when none of that bothers me in the slightest, was I feeling so nervous about a course that is only going to be one day a week? I suppose it’s because with schools I’m just passing through. I’m not really invested as, although I always give value for money, I can’t say that I’m all that interested in the job any more. Frankly, I could do it in my sleep. The course, however, is something that I’ve applied to do, I even had an interview for God’s sake, and I want to make a good impression.
Also, it’s going to be the first time in a while that I have had to learn new skills. The last time I studied anything new was about ten years ago, when I did a course in massage. I went along to my local college, once a week for a year, and I loved it. It was quite difficult, we had to learn all about human biology as well as the various techniques of massage, but it was a great experience. There are two reasons why studying something new can be lots of fun, the fact that you meet interesting people, who otherwise might not have crossed your path, and the exhilarating sense of achievement when you master a new skill.
Thinking back to my younger years, I’m astonished by the ease with which I used to breeze into new environments and learn new things. As time marches on though, all the things we took for granted in out teens and twenties become a much bigger deal. As a young woman, meeting new people was all about finding new friends with whom to paint the town red. There was no such thing as having too many friends, it was simply the more the merrier. There comes a point though when your life is at saturation point and you no longer have the inclination to commit the time and energy to developing new friendships and that’s really sad.
Probably the thing that was playing on my mind the most about the new course was wondering who the other people were going to be. Given that the course is in psychotherapy, I’m guessing that we are going to be expected to get in pretty close and personal and I’m not sure I’m up for revealing my dirty laundry in public. I spent a few days torturing myself, imagining what kind of people my fellow students would turn out to be and concluded that they probably weren’t going to be a barrel of laughs. In actual fact, I couldn’t have been more wrong. It’s a group of ten of us and it’s a very diverse group. What’s more, I can already tell I’m going to like them which surely has to be a good sign on a first impression.
My biggest fear, however, more than the people or how hard the course was going to be, was the nagging dread that we might have to do role play. Or even worse – those ice-breaker games. I kept getting flashes of having to wear a label with my name on it, whilst having bean bags thrown at me and simultaneously having to shout out an adjective which described my personality. I would break out in a cold sweat just thinking about it. I’m happy to report that there were no such horrors to endure during the first session but I’m not ruling out the spectre of role play in the future. My fellow students are a very open and exuberant bunch, the very type in fact who could demand role play be written into a role play free course just for the fun of it. My friends think it’s hilarious that I’ve embarked upon a course which, let’s face it, is more or less synonymous with role play, when the very phrase can pitch me into a cold, dark place of blind panic. The other women on the course have so far only seen my affable, charming side, I’m not sure they would be ready for the surly, stroppy monster that the RP word transforms me into.
So there you have it, that’s a lot of fears floating about and you may be forgiven for wondering what the hell I’m doing it for. Well I happen to believe that the pros far outweigh the cons. I want to be a lifelong learner, not somebody who switches off once they’ve left school/college/university. Life is hopefully long and learning keeps us from stagnating and becoming closed off and set in our ways. We’re all entitled to our own beliefs and opinions but how do we know how valid they are if they are never challenged? Learning takes us out of our confident little bubble and forces us to face up to our fears and insecurities which surely ultimately makes us more empathic and understanding of others.
As a teacher, it’s really easy to forget what it’s like to be in the role of learner. Once we become secure in a skill, we find it hard to comprehend why others might not be able to grasp that same skill. The hardest thing I ever had to learn in my life was driving. I have never felt so vulnerable or incompetent than when I was behind the wheel of a car. Eventually, I did pass my driving test, even though I would rather eat my own shoes than drive a car and I will never forget that sickening torment of being unable to do something that other people seemed able to do so easily. Hideous as the whole driving experience was, it was a valuable one. It made me realise just how scary being a learner can be and hopefully it made me a better teacher.
Lifelong learning then is all about being forced out of our comfort zone. The older I get the more inclined I am to cling to what I know, be that people, places or situations and, let’s be honest, that’s kind of boring. I don’t want to be a comfortable middle-aged woman, who never feels the thrill of doing something new. I want to feel as if anything is possible, not that all of my best years are behind me. I hear people my age talking about their glory years or heyday and it depresses the hell out of me. I’m not ready to settle for comfortable slippers just yet, I want to wear my Doc Martins and to quote the lovely Morrissey, “kick with the fray.”
There are so many ways in which we close ourselves off, sometimes without even knowing it, and it doesn’t take a new course to break down those walls. Most of us lead busy lives and, as I said, it’s hard to make the space for new people but how do we know we’re not missing out on someone who could turn out to be a great friend? As we get older, our lives get smaller and, when I consider the people in my life, they’re more or less all like me – middle-aged, professional people. Some are more career driven; some have families while others don’t but we’re pretty much all of a type. The people on my course range from early twenties to sixties and seem to come from a wide ranging social spectrum, which surely can only be a good thing. I hadn’t even noticed how uniform my friends are until I felt the thrill of meeting people who are nothing like me. I’m sure we won’t always agree and I kind of like that. I’m ready to have my comfortable little world shaken up a bit.
How about you? How comfortable is your life? Are you clinging to what you know at the risk of missing out on the promise of something new? All I can say is I recommend doing something fresh be that learning something new and scary, or just opening yourself up to people who might not ordinarily even register on your radar. Go on – give it a go.