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Educating Yourself - Part 1
By Leon & Sheryl Olguin - 07/24/2001 - 07:04 PM EDT

© 2001, Leon Olguin, Edited by Sheryl Olguin.

Most likely, you went to school. Some of you may have gone to college and graduate school. I used to think that when I graduated from college, my education was over, and it was time to go to work. Of course, I was 22, and I still thought I knew everything I needed to know.

The older I get (and no matter what I do, I seem to keep getting older), the more I realize my need to keep learning. I want to keep my education going. Since I'm not in "school" where someone is actively teaching me as part of a class, I must strive to educate myself.

Education never stops for a truly successful person. They are always learning, sometimes tackling subjects and skills that have nothing to do with what they do for a living. As a performing songwriter, there is much you can learn that will enhance your life and work as a musician. I'm not talking about "how-to" books on the music business, important though they may be. I refer to subjects that will make you a well-rounded person, and give you a deeper appreciation for your art.

Before I briefly introduce you to some subjects and skills to consider, here are some of the benefits gained from continuing your education:

1. You'll get your brain in better shape. It may sound strange to say it that way, but your brain works like a muscle. You've got to "use it or lose it." Your brainpower increases when you make it work to assimilate new information and learn new skills. Your ability to concentrate increases, your memory grows sharper, and you develop valuable self-discipline that flows into other areas of your life. The same self-discipline developed through mastering a new subject or acquiring a new skill can be used to sustain a successful fitness program, or improve your relationships with loved ones.

2. You'll discover the true nature of learning. Many folks think of learning as something to get through, something to finish so they can go on with life. Actually, life is learning. We learn all the time by doing. If you are just starting to play an instrument, try not to think of it as "learning to play." This implies that you are not really playing, just learning. From the minute you first pick up the instrument and figure out how to make a sound with it, you are playing it. You keep playing and figuring things out. You learn to read music by determining (often with the help of an able teacher) what all those black dots mean. You learn by trial and error how to take those little dots and translate them into music. You learn by doing. There is no other way.

3. If you keep at it, you'll begin to see that you are not as limited as you think. Age doesn't matter. Gender doesn't matter. As a human being, you are a marvel. You are unique. You have the capacity to learn anything. Einstein once stated that anyone could master any subject if they studied it for 15 minutes a day. It may take months, it may take years, but any subject can be mastered. What do you want to learn? What subjects have always interested you, but seemed too hard? What skills do you want to acquire? You don't need to abandon the rest of your life to do it; you only need 15 minutes a day.

4. You will learn to banish the phrase "I can't" from your mind and life. "I can't learn this, I'm too old." "I can't find the time." "I can't do it." If you keep expanding your mind with constant learning and doing, you'll eventually stop saying "I can't." Other phrases and sayings that will go: "I'm not very good at…" "I'm slow to figure things out." "This is out of my area of expertise." "I don't have a gift for this." "I'll never be any good." "I can't remember things well." All these negative statements and thought will fade out of your life when you become a life long, high-achieving learner.

5. You'll find joy in the process of learning. Getting back to the example of playing an instrument: Many musicians give up in the early stages because they observe others who are "better." They believe that no matter how hard they work, they will never be good enough. They never learned how to enjoy where they were at each stage. Most musicians will not be "virtuosos" on their instruments. But that's all right! Many of the most famous musicians in the world, and certainly most of the great songwriters, are not "virtuoso" players. To achieve that kind of skill can take years of hard work and study. However, I believe that anyone who finds joy in the learning process can master their instrument well enough to play for their own enjoyment, and maybe even for others.

You may be thinking, "All this stuff about learning is all well and good, but where does it start?" I can't give you the definitive answer. Every person has different interests and aspirations. There is so much to learn, and I'm only thinking about music-related things. We'll suggest a few places to start in our next column.


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