Being new at something feels worse as you get older

When I was younger I was incredibly hungry to learn. This is still my self-image: an open, questioning and willing woman who thirsts for knowledge. I have, however, noticed that while I feel this way and act this way, I do not get the same satisfaction I used to from being in the early stages of learning; the time when you are really bad at the thing you are learning.

Today I just feel bad. I feel like I should already know the thing I’m starting to learn. Or that it’s not ok for me to not know it yet. I barely start and I am criticizing myself for not having mastered it or reached “the end” already. What happened to the joy of learning?

I remember well (and fondly) that when I was starting to learn something new it felt incredibly exciting and rewarding, like I was devouring new information. In a way, when the delta between where you are and where you want to be is large, it’s very gratifying to make any progress. I simply don’t feel that now.

Perhaps part of this feeling is when I was younger I pursued new knowledge based on pure interest, not any particular need or goal. Or I’d learn something just because it sounded cool, seemed marginally neat or somewhat intriguing. Sometimes I’d take on a whole new topic just because it looked difficult and I wanted to prove to myself I could do it. Now I feel there is so much I MUST learn that even if I do find it interesting or intriguing, I already start with some strange expectation that I MUST LEARN ALL THE THINGS. RIGHT NOW. OH WAIT, I’M ALREADY BEHIND. AND THERE IS A RIGHT WAY TO LEARN TOO. AND I’M DOING IT WRONG!

This feeling really puts me off from learning. In the last 3 years I have read less books, participated in less online discussions and explored less “new things” than ever before. It feels stagnant. Now it’s just making me mad at myself, specially as I think about what an amazing moment we are living in technologically and as a society.

Oddly, I do learn quite a lot still, but it feels very superficial. And not gratifying. Access to information is so easy and cheap, but it all seems so passive too. I barely have to do any work at all to learn about the latest things. But is that really learning? Being superficially aware of what’s happening is not the same as learning to me (acquiring long-lasting knowledge), and that’s seems to have become the primary way in which I’m gaining any new knowledge these days.

Interruption may also play a role in this dissatisfaction. When I allowed myself to pursue a new topic of interest when I was younger, I really did have all the time in the world. I could really get into something and spend 12 straight hours and not sleep and fully embrace something. Now I have to schedule the time, make an explicit choice upfront, squeeze it in between other things I’ve committed to doing. How can learning feel good when it’s so constrained?

I’d like to regain that thrilling feeling of being excited about what I might learn while not knowing much at all. The feeling that it is ok to wander and to wonder. And to do so actively, feeding that hunger for more, while enjoying the bliss of ignorance until I can enjoy the reward of having conquered the unknown.

I’m going to find out how I can do that again.