I’m currently reading Mastery, a book by Robert Greene. I’m not sure what to think about it yet - the bones are good, but it’s very… preachery. If that is a word.
But! There’s one idea in it that got me thinking, and it’s about apprenticeship. The idea is that we all go through a phase of apprenticeship whenever we start something new. Apprenticeship is about learning, observing, asking questions and finding your way in new, changed circumstances. An apprentice doesn’t need to have the answer to big questions, and he or she also doesn’t have to have it all figured out.
Sounds familiar? Yup. Sounds very much like my current situation. And you know what? To arrive at that conclusion was a relief. I don’t need to have it all figured out. I can learn, observe, make mistakes.
I thought it might be interesting to share a bit about how I do that - how I learn, and I’d also love to hear how you learn!
I described my style of learning recently to a friend as “being like a sponge”: I soak up all sorts of different things - articles, books, movies, crafting, conversations, exhibitions, paintings, photos, cooking, food, the city, you name it. I soak it up and at one point sooner or later a pattern will emerge. I’m making connections between things that I haven’t connected before - like knitting + sustainability + experience in e-commerce = maybe open an online shop for locally sourced sustainable yarns and knitting accessories?
My dad has an amazing expression for this - he calls it being an “Assoziationschaot” (… association chaot? …). We connect (associate) things with each other that are seemingly very different, or we have a set of different associations that move into a pattern. The interesting thing is I can’t control when and how this happens. It might happen under the shower, it has happened during conversations, it might happen on a walk or while reading a book.
But I’ve learned one thing - to make sure that it does happen I need to surround myself with associations. With input. With ideas. With amazing people. The way I’m currently doing this is through a couple of different ways, three of which I’d like to share today:
You might have read about my 52 books in 52 weeks project on my website. I’ve always loved reading (ask my mom, I think there might’ve been an incident or two where I fell down the stairs in my childhood home because I was reading while walking…), but I almost completely stopped during university and my first years of working. Don’t get me wrong, I read a lot - papers, articles, presentations, reports, but no books. Nothing just because I wanted to.
This year, I promised myself that I would get back into it and my 52 book project was a great way of kickstarting it! I’m very well on track - currently at book no. 50 with still a couple of weeks to go. I’ve been reading fiction, non-fiction, biographies, business books, blogs, cookbooks, very, very different things. This is an excellent way to feed my brain (and maybe yours as well?).
Bonus tip: If you’re looking for something a bit out of the ordinary, a bit challenging, and very inspiring to read, check out Katharine Graham’s biography (Owner & Publisher of the Washington Post during Watergate). I’ll also share a roundup of the best books I’ve read this year in December or January.
2. Doing things that are entirely unrelated to what I did before as a job.
I’ve always been interested in a million different things at a time. When I stopped working, I started doing a lot more creative things again - I’ve taken up knitting in the last years, and I’ve also started with one of those adult coloring books.
Doing something that is entirely unrelated to what you usually do is extremely helpful to expand your horizon and get you thinking about different possibilities (see idea of the knitting shop above). Think back to when you were a kid - did you like working with your hands? If yes, explore different crafts or start renovating a part of your apartment or paint :)
3. Reaching out and connecting.
I feel very very lucky to have a partner who has my back 100% of the time, a very close group of friends from university, and recently, I’ve met an amazing group of women who do things here in Berlin at the intersection of art and tech (roughly speaking). They make amazing jazz music, knit like crazy, design patterns, organize exhibitions and a million other things.
Getting to know them better has shown me again how important it is to get outside your comfort zone and connect with people who are not doing what you do. Being creative, figuring out how you can make a living as a freelancer, the ups and downs of that life, all of this wouldn’t have ended up in my set of associations if I hadn’t met them.
At the same time, my closest friends and my partner have been nothing short of amazing during this journey. They know me best, they are the ones who give me honest, but gentle feedback (see this amazing comment of Elizabeth Gilbert on how she deals with criticism!), are my biggest cheerleaders and build me up when it’s going downhill.
If you're embarking on such a journey, make sure you know who's in your corner.