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I Failed Immediately. Then I Succeeded.


Swoosh. Swish. Chatter. Crunch. Silence. Swoosh. Chatter. Crash.

The sound of me learning to ski, just a few weeks ago at the end of the ski season at Killington Vermont. Even though I grew up in the frozen north, I never learned to downhill ski. My mother had me on ice skates almost as soon as I could walk, and we had weeks of snowshoe and cross-country ski units in gym class. But the downhill skiing never took.

I recall one school trip as a young child to Ski Big Tupper. I don’t remember now what prompted them to take us on a skiing field trip over an hour away, but I do remember that I didn’t like it. Not one bit. I fell over, got cold and wet, couldn’t get back up, and the other kids laughed at me. I tried something new, probably under duress, failed immediately and vowed never to ski again.

Cut to winter 2019, and someone has convinced me that although I had a bad experience trying to ski as a child, maybe I should try it again as an adult who is not under duress to learn, and who at the very least could enjoy the benefits of après ski. It would also help to use better equipment (I don’t even think we had ski poles or real ski boots in Tupper, let alone goggles) and take an actual instruction class for adult novice skiers.

By the end of the trip I was off the learner slope and happily skiing on actual trails, but I failed a lot before I succeeded. People have different learning styles, and for whatever reason I wasn’t quite getting what the instructor was saying. The instructions made sense, but my feet just weren’t doing what they should and he couldn’t explain it in a way that would correct me. My biggest obstacle was being able to turn – kind of an important skill to master if you’re going to do anything other than ski in a straight line. My friend finally hit on the mental trick that worked for me: to learn how to turn I held my hands out in front of me and actually moved my hands like I was steering a big wheel, and bingo presto I was turning. My theory for why this method worked is because I’m good at hand-eye coordinated tasks, but am hopeless at foot-eye activities such as soccer and, apparently, learning to ski.

Learning brand new things as an adult is difficult. Lifelong learning is important for brain health and makes you a more scintillating conversationalist, but teaching yourself to do something you’ve never tried before is scary. For one thing, we’re afraid of failing. Ego and the desire to save face gets in our way, and we can get discouraged when we don’t immediately succeed at a new endeavor.

We see this all the time in the library. When I’m working on the Reference Desk, I help people do all sorts of things on the computer, on their phones or tablets, and on library technology such as the scanner or copier. Every day, adults apologize to me when they don’t do something perfectly the first time they try it. This self-deprecation really isn’t necessary though, because every single person who knows how to do something well started out not knowing how to do it. We all had to turn on the computer for the first time, muddle our way through the first screen of prompts on the fax machine, and figure out how to get back up again after falling on a pair of skis. Whatever the skill, none of us do it right the first time. The important thing is to take a breath, dust yourself off, and try, try again.

I’m especially proud of the students in our Learn to Knit and Learn to Crochet classes, which we offer on alternating months in the fall, winter, and spring. We get a lot of adults who have been curious about knitting or crocheting, but who have never thought of themselves as crafty or worked with yarn before. We keep the classes small and create a safe space where we all start with the basics, helping students along on an individual level. These folks are literally training their muscles to do something they’ve never done before, and learning a craft can be frustrating at first – we know it’s frustrating, because we’ve been there. As an instructor, it’s a fun challenge to try to figure out just the right way of explaining the technique or helping the student visualize what they need to do next, until suddenly the craft clicks for them.

We offer a number of hands-on learning opportunities at the library, including Learn to Knit and Learn to Crochet classes. We also have one-on-one technology appointments where you can bring your device or use our laptop, and sit down with one of our Technology Librarians to learn a new skill. Please contact the Reference Desk, 781-769-0200 x110, or visit our website,, to join one of the “Learn to” classes or book a technology appointment. If you’d like to experience the challenge and reward of teaching someone a brand new set of skills and make a real impact on their life, consider becoming an English as a second language (ESOL) tutor through our Literacy program (781-769-4599).

However, I regret to inform you that at this time the Morrill Memorial Library will not be adding learn to ski classes to our roster of services.

Liz Reed is the Adult Services Library at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, MA. Look for her article in the April 4, 2019 issue of the Norwood Transcript.


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