One of the best words I’ve recently learned is autodidact. Because right now in my life, that’s what I am: someone who’s self-taught. In my twenties, I found there were embarrassing holes in my English-lit background, leaving me chagrined when my editor peers referenced writers and thinkers I’d never heard of. So I created my own remedial reading program and got up to speed on everyone from Zola and Jean Rhys to Alexis de Tocqueville. Even if some of the people who made me feel dumb were really just pretentious pseudo-intellectuals, I enjoyed the journey and by my mid-twenties could name-drop with the worst of ’em.
In my thirties, I moved to the suburbs, which are, to a time-crazed working mother, a takeout desert. My small town had just two restaurants—a McDonald’s and a very expensive French joint—so once again it was immersion time. A few courses at Manhattan’s Institute of Culinary Education and a wall of cookbooks later, I’m competent at Indian, Chinese, New Orleans Cajun, London vegetarian and many stops in between. I’m also a killer baker, even apprenticing friends who were too daunted by their convection ovens to turn them on.
Last year my gardening thumb, once midnight black, turned green, and I started raising flowers and veggies from seed. Now I’ve ramped up to planting heirloom varieties from a seed exchange. My husband threw in a new challenge by suggesting I create my own hybrids; he even bought me a book about how to pollinate by hand. Hey, to a guy who taught himself calculus in business school, nothing seems like overreaching.
Am I a wonk at heart? Not really. It’s just that I, like many of you, look at each day as an opportunity to adventure into the unknown. That could mean downloading a new app on my smartphone or finding a spice I’ve never tried at an exotic-food market. It could be discovering an author or a creative hobby or a group of people doing interesting things. What I truly love about these encounters is that I get to start each of them with a clean slate. Being a novice all over again makes me feel youthful and unashamed to make mistakes. After years of leadership and responsibility, at work and at home, I find it wonderfully freeing to be released from expertise—to tear off the mantle of kung fu master and become a young grasshopper again. What are your grasshopper moments? Tell me about them in the comment section below.
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