An unfortunate number of people graduate from high school or college with a lot of knowledge and no practical ability. I’m a firm believer that practical learning (i.e. the ability to do something) is just as important as academic learning (i.e. knowledge about something).
Practical learning encompasses anything that helps someone master a skill or ability. It includes skills that are sometimes considered drudge work…cooking, painting, fixing a car. As well as talents that are more recreational…skiing, drawing, dancing.
Why Practical Learning?
While skill-based learning comes naturally to some, many people are more comfortable with academic learning.
When I graduated college, I loved reading and thinking. I could spend hours devouring books and discussing ideas. But, I had to admit that there was little I could do. I couldn’t cook a good meal, grow a plant, or change the oil in my car.
Over the next few years, I set aside time to escape from the written word and focus my energy developing skills. When I first began cooking, I had to use the fire extinguisher a couple of times. I also had to fight the urge to spend all my time reading books and websites about cooking instead of spending time in the kitchen. But, over time, my abilities improved. Today I’m a rather confident cook with a solid collection of tested recipes. Instead of being a chore, cooking provides me with an escape and a way to express my creativity.
If you’re more of a thinker than a do-er, it may be difficult to focus on practical learning. But, the rewards are definitely worth it. Here’s why:
- There is great satisfaction in being able to accomplish something. When you develop a practical skill, you can see the results right away: a well-cooked meal, a successful day on the slopes, or a pipe that no longer leaks.
- Practical learning helps people avoid helplessness. It’s true that you could pay someone to avoid a few of the more menial skills. But, developing the ability to do things on your own means you won’t find yourself helpless. Seeking assistance becomes a choice rather than a necessity.
- Skills and talents can help you develop relationships. In the adult world, most friendships seem to come from two arenas: group associations (work, church, etc.) and people who get together due to common interests. Practice developing a talent and you’ll find it easier to create relationships with interesting, like-minded people.
- Find connections to your profession. Whether you’re a writer or a real estate agent, developing abilities can help you in your work. You’ll be more interesting to clients and have a greater understanding of the world.
- Skills help you develop confidence. When you can scale a mountain or replace a radiator, what’s to stop you from finding success in your personal goals? Accomplish something tangible, and you’ll feel better prepared to meet the life goals that seem more elusive.
Practical Skills Everyone Should Learn
There are a few abilities that just about everyone should have, no matter your age or circumstance.
- Cook a healthy meal
- Fix a leaky faucet
- Take a decent picture
- Change the oil in your car
- Change a tire
- Hem a pair of pants
- Grow a garden
- Sew a button back on a shirt
- Use an outdoor grill
- Build a fire
- Drive a stick shift
- Write a thank-you note
These basic skills tend to come up over and over again. If you don’t know how to do some (or all) of these, give them a try. Taking the time to figure something out rather than saying “I can’t” and you’ll be prepared for the next time an opportunity presents itself.
Your Mission: Find Something You’ll Love
If you’re not currently working towards the ability to DO something, set a new goal for yourself. You can work on one of the basic skills above or develop a passion for something you’re interested in.
Ask yourself, right now: What have I always wanted to be able to do?
Eight weeks from now you may be able to climb rocks, play tennis, whip up a gourmet dessert, sail a boat, or tile your bathroom.
Explore the possibilities, make a choice, and work actively towards your goal. Get excited. If you’re like me, practical learning will enrich your life in ways you never imagined.