Dummies Guide To My Life

Someone has made a fortune off of all those Dummies Guides, Idiots Guides, 30 Second Guides, etc., etc. and I am a little ashamed to say I have contributed to their wealth.  When I was younger, I had a new habit every other week, and I thought the best way to become a master of anything was to buy a book for $10 and study all the short-cuts the authors offered.  I started with magic.  Yes, I thought I could be a magician.  This book even came with a few props.  In a matter of days, I planned on making my house, or maybe just my little brother, vanish in front of a huge crowd of believers.  When magic failed me (I did ruin a few decks of cards in the process) I moved on to juggling.  Yes, there is even a book on how to juggle.  Looking back on it now, I realize it was the equivalent of “The Idiots Guide to Throwing Things Up In The Air and Catching Them,” but I didn’t care.  It came with three hackey sack type balls to practice with.  I was always a sucker for trinkets.  I’m not sure when I gave up on that one, but over the next several years there was guitar playing, starting a business, and the sub categories of starting a coffee shop and making sandwiches.  I imagine if I had just saved the money I spent on self help books, I probably could have come up with a down payment for the business I wanted to start.

Now, truth be told, I did teach myself how to juggle, and I could even fake my way through a few basic songs on my guitar, but that brings about the moral of this story.  I didn’t need those books to teach me anything.  Sure, these books offer ideas on how to go about mastering a skill, but in the end, the true mastery comes from only one thing, and that is true, honest effort.  In addition to the aforementioned books, I have just about every Spanish self-help book I could get my hands on, but ultimantely, my success from speaking Spanish comes from practice practice practice.  When someone asks me how I am able to speak Spanish as well as I do (ok, like a four year old, but better than the average English speaker) I can not point to a specific chapter in a book or a trick I have learned.  Any book that offers you the ability to speak like a native in a week bases this statement under the assumption you will do nothing but eat, breathe, and sleep in Spanish for that given time, and then you must continue to live this way in order to sustain this ability.  There is no skill out there that can not be condensed into an Idiot’s Guide, simply because in truth, most things are simple if you just devote yourself to it.  I have all the tools I need to speak Spanish.  In fact, I have more than enough tools to teach myself how to speak perfectly.  If I devoted the time necessary, I would indeed speak fluently, but the tools are not the books or online articles I read.  Those items are simply the inspiration I need to push myself forward and learn on my own.  No one, and I am including parents, mentors, teachers, bosses, anyone in this world, can teach anyone anything if the student is not truly invested in learning.  I have to do the work.  No Dummies Guide is going to do the work for me.  Thankfully, I am not as lazy as others.  I would argue that I have at least earned something from some of these books, as I have applied some of it to my life.  No, I am not Jimi Hendrix, David Copperfield, or Donald Trump, however, I feel today I am a better manager in my job than I was years ago (although I contribute much of my success to hands on experience.)  Were it not for some of these ridiculous books I probably would have never learned a Dave Matthews song on my acoustic guitar, nor would I have written a business plan or entertained employees by juggling lemons at work.  The message I am trying to get across here is that it is not the book that helped me.  It was the inspiration.  We can all be inspired by something to acheive our goals, so I guess if buying a book is the best way to go about it, then go for it.

All this being said, I have come across another book I had stored away in a closet that offers to change my life for the better.  A few Christmas’  back, during my book reading addiction/obsession I must have received twenty books, of which I have read maybe four.  (I plan on reading them all someday, as soon as I finish the Harry Potter series in Spanish.  That should take me another year or two!)  My sister-in-law bought me Dale Carnegie’s “How To Win Friends and Influence People,” and “How To Stop Worrying and Start Living,” which actually came as one book and I suspect she found it in the book section of Stop and Shop and got it at a discount, but whatever.  At first I thought she was being a little condescending, suggesting things about my life, but I took it and added it to my collection of business start-up books and categorized it as something that would help me be a better business leader.  Along with those books, it had sat in a box in my closet for at least four years, until today, when I was reminded that I had it.

My current obsession is language learning.  Like all other hobbies in my life, it started innocently as a desire to learn Spanish.  In the beginning, I just wanted to be able to speak clearly with my co-workers, and, ok, I was dating an Ecuadorian and it would have helped to be able to speak to one another a little easier.  She fought learning English, and eventually we went our seperate ways (not because of the language barrier) but the spark to learn Spanish was embedded in my mind and I started taking it more and more seriously.  As I said earlier, I went and bought up all the learning material I could find, but it was simply the desire to learn that proved most helpful.  After spending a few years with this challenge, I decided last Spring that it was time to expand my language horizons to other languages.  It wasn’t a Dummies Guide this time that inspired me, rather an Irishman who speaks eight languages.  I started following his blog initially only to improve my Spanish, but soon I felt like I could take on more.  I have been working on Italian for a few months now, and I gave myself a goal of being able to converse with a native Italian speaker by Halloween.  (I have less than two weeks left on this challenge.)  There are days I feel quite frustrated with it, and then somedays I feel like maybe I am making a little progress.  I mean, like my Spanish, I am sure I can say more today than the majority of English speakers I come across.

How does this all fit together?  Well, the book.  Supposedly, it is one of the greatest self-help books of all time.  In fact, I think it is the first book of its kind.  It was written back in the 1930’s, so I doubt there were a lot of Idiots Guide to Juggling back then.  So, how is it going to help me?  I am not entirely sure, but since I didn’t actually spend any money on this one I don’t have to feel guilty about using it or not using it.  I don’t know that it will change my life, but I think what I would like to get out of it is additional inspiration to push forward, not only with my language goals, but the other goals I have set for my life on various occassions and have failed to move forward with.  I am going to try to avoid a list here, but there are several things in my life I would like to get on with and I am tired of wasting time waiting for things to come to me.  I know that if I want to get things done, I have to actually do them.  No one is going to help me, and that includes the authors of these books.

Turning 30 this year has changed my view on a lot of things.  On one hand, I am no different than I was at 28 or 29, but on the other, I feel it has served as inspiration to get a move on with things.  I often tell myself I am happy living the single life, and I am, but that doesn’t change the fact that I could also be happy if I were at least dating someone.  I often live my life in black and white, thinking if I am happy doing one thing, I could never be happy doing another, but the fact is, while it would be a change to my life, having a female companion might actually bring more joy to my life.  Sure, I see plenty of unhappy couples, and this has served as an excuse not to seek out anyone, but if I am to one day have kids, I sort of have to risk having a relationship with somone that may hit its bumps in the road.  I have plenty of reasons to fear being with someone, but realistically, I have to start taking a risk or two if I am going to live a full life.  They say these days 30 is the new 20 and I shouldn’t feel pressured to move too fast, but I have friends who are married and have kids already.  It’s not a race, but I don’t want to be 50 and still looking for a wife.  Sometimes I fear having a relationship will prevent me from doing these other things I love doing so much.  I mean, I want to speak several more languages, and I fear that if I were to find a girlfriend, I would ultimately have to sacrifice this goal, but why?  My problem is thinking too far ahead of myself.

Anyway, I think I’ll go start reading my book and see how it is going to help me find a Spanish speaking wife.

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~ by James on October 19, 2011.

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