I can’t read, but I’m determined to learn

I can’t read, but I’m determined to learn
April 29, 2020 Beth Nyland

Books are my jam. I read them for pleasure, focus, enrichment. Books capture my attention, inspire my imagination, and comfort my soul. They teach me.

Because my default learning mode is “on,” I’m always consuming books in various forms: a physical book to savor at home; a handful of e-books to dip into on the train, in the carpool line, in waiting rooms; an audio book to occupy my thoughts while I drive, walk, or do laundry.

When I realized we’d be sequestered at home for a while—no business travel, no commuting into the city, no carpools, no trips to the gym—I envisioned devouring a smorgasbord of books. What joy to channel all that free time into reading! Ahh!

(Raise your hand if you could use a little “ahh” right now.)

And yet, more than six weeks into coronavirus isolation, I’ve yet to pick up a novel or non-fiction book or volume of poetry. I haven’t even finished the audio book I started on my last business trip in early March.

What gives?

Make no mistake: I’m consuming words. But instead of books, I’m wandering dangerous territory. You know where I mean: Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat, TikTok (yes, I have an account), Pinterest, Podcasts, Netflix, Skillshare, Spotify, Pocket, Medium, Flipboard, email, and way too many news outlets.

Hunting for useful words

These online resources are big, broad, and bottomless. Pick a channel, any channel. Then pick an interest, any interest. Start clicking. There is no end to what we can consume.

But are these sites and apps teaching me anything? Are they feeding my soul? Compared to books, they lack a clear focus and a last word. (With no last word, how do I know when I’m done?)

My husband is a reader, too, Even more than me, he’s a compulsive learner—always studying something that will challenge his thinking, build his abilities, enlarge his world. While I seem to have lost my grip on reading, Jim is focused. This month he decided to devote blocks of time to “learning and development.” He chooses a topic (say, leading in tough times, time management, motivation techniques) and then hunts down experts who can teach him that skill at a distance.

Learning now, at a distance

Quite often, I’m the one teaching eager learners—leading workshops and coaching businesspeople to put creativity and storytelling to work. Right now, in this weird, challenging time, we’re having to adjust the way that happens.

Just last week, I had to tell a client that his company would likely be canceling the Story Mode presentation skills workshop he was planning to attend. “Oh no!” he said, “I really need that! Why don’t you just convert all your workshops to virtual?”

We are, I told him. At least as much as possible. But some teams prefer to meet in person—particularly for something as physical as presentation skills—so they’re postponing our workshops until we can be together in one room.

Long pause.

“Wow, they’re making a mistake,” my client said. Why? Because organizations and individuals should be making time for learning and development now, while so many of us are homebound and well-versed in the technologies that make virtual meetings and distance learning possible. Once the restrictions lift, he said, we’ll all be racing to catch up. Core work responsibilities will consume us.

“We won’t be able to make learning a priority then,” he said. “The time is now.”

Side note: This conversation prompted me and Jill to accelerate work on our online and virtual offerings. We’re moving fast on several self-directed Teachable courses, and we’re encouraging all our clients to get their teams in Story Mode virtually. Last week we ran three virtual storytelling workshops, with groups ranging from 11 to 75. We kept our energy high and made intense use of the chat window to be sure everyone stayed captivated and involved. Comments like this have me convinced that we’ve cracked the boring webinar model: “I have been on many webinars since this all occurred. Your presentation style and technique and use of the chat was the best! Outstanding!!!”

Paving a personal learning path

Just as I’m thinking about how my business can give learning-hungry people the nourishing guidance they need, I’m planning to feed my own appetite for learning and development. Until I find my way back into books, I want to turn those other content sources into a useful training ground.

Here’s my plan:

Focus. No tangents or mindless scrolling allowed. I’ll be intentional about what I study in my self-made classroom. Following Jim’s lead, I’ll choose specific topics. On my shortlist: marketing via Instagram, quick and dirty video editing, and loosening tight hamstrings (no one said all this learning and development has to be work-related).

Limit. Just as I love moving my bookmark while reading toward the end of a good book, I like to see progress and the finish line when I’m learning. So, I’ll set time limits for my learning sessions, and control my impulse to click those links begging me to watch, read, or hear more. Using a timer (they’re built into all our devices), I can allot 45 minutes to a Skillshare course on Instagram marketing, then set a 15-minute timer to stretch my hamstrings with a trainer on YouTube.

Write. I’ve been saving a Wonder Woman journal for who-knows-what. Now, that funky notebook has a purpose: I’m dedicating it to my studies. Every time I dip into some useful content—a book, a podcast, a video—I’ll make notes, just like I used to do in the spiral-bound notebooks in my Trapper Keeper. And at the end of each learning session, I’ll answer these two questions: What’s one thing I learned? and What’s one thing I will try? (This is the closing exercise in every Story Mode workshop. I may as well practice what I preach.)

Commit. Putting words on paper will make my learning physical, and I’ll have tangible evidence of my experience and my action plan. As added assurance that I’ll put my learning to use, I’ll share my discoveries and plans with someone else. I’ll tell my husband and daughters over dinner. If they grow weary, I’ll ping Jill or one of my siblings. And if all else fails, I’ll share my lightbulb moments on social media. Follow me on LinkedIn and/or Instagram. Maybe my insights will save you from mindless scrolling through that bottomless void.


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