One of the axioms that has ruled my approach to learning anything new is that “It’s difficult to learn and look good at the same time.” It’s also pointless. If you’re worried about how you appear while you’re learning, then you’re splitting your attention. All that energy focused on worry would be better spent focused on whatever it is you’re trying to learn.
In my experience, one of the attributes of the best students is the willingness to make mistakes. To take a fall while daring greatly is no dishonor. And we’re not talking just any fall. A damn-the-torpedoes, full-steam-ahead face plant that the legendary slapstick comedians would envy. Falling does not mean failure. This time, you fell. So what? Measure your determination by the size of the crater you made, then try again. Aim for greatness, and don’t beat yourself up if you miss.
Every attempt to try something new contains one important element that must not be ignored: the element of hope. This attempt might be the one where everything clicks and you finally reach a goal. Or, perhaps more likely, this might be an attempt where a piece falls into place and the emerging picture becomes clearer. A rough draft of a story that reads as nonsense but contains a perfect turn of phrase. A drawing that’s barely above a scribble but contains one perfect image of a leaf hidden way in the corner. A sculpture that grins at you from its imperfections and gives you the boost to reach for the next level.
One of my teachers described learning as climbing a series of plateaus. At first, everything’s new. You struggle, you climb a bit as you start to master the skills, more struggle, more climbing, slip back, climb, climb, climb, until finally you reach a place where things make sense. A plateau where you’ve mastered a set of skills that allow you to produce something you’re proud of. So you hang out on the plateau for a while repeating your success until you grow tired of staying in the same place and begin looking upward eyeing the next plateau. Time to pull out your climbing boots and ready the rope.
And here is where dragons come into the picture (yes, I guessed you were wondering). When I first attempted to sculpt polymer clay, I began with cats. Cartoon-like cats, like the orange cat in the dragon lineup. Once I came up with a cat design that satisfied me, I needed something more challenging to stretch my skills. As a fantasy writer, the choice was obvious.
I’m on a quest for a better dragon design. Not a perfect design, I’m not going to fall into the perfection trap (again), but a better design than what I’ve come up with so far. At this point in time, I’ve come a long way on my quest and have reached several plateaus. Every type of dragon has taught me something new.
It’s counter-productive to worry about learning and looking good at the same time, so I’m not going to try. I plan to share some of the not-so-good-looking stages in my evolution of dragons in hopes that it’ll help someone else try something new.
Time to put on the climbing boots.
In the next blog post in this series: Plateau 1: The Gargoyle.