How to learn like Beethoven
Or at least, very, very fast (Newsletter #2)
Look, it’s been a few weeks since my last newsletter. While I’d love to say it’s because I locked myself into a small attic to spend three whole weeks chiselling away that the next one for you, instead I was stuck in bed and high on ibuprofen.
As I’m still recovering, this is a short one.
I’ll hopefully return to your inboxes again sooner rather than later.
How to learn a new craft, but faster
It first graced the shelves 10 years ago, but I recently picked up Show Your Work by creativity expert Austin Kleon. He’s well known both for musings on the artistic process and signature artwork that tells stories by selectively darkening book and magazine pages. It’s very cool.
Here’s one of his:
A follow up to the bestseller Steal like an Artist, the guidebook shares strategies for artists to enhance the ‘discoverability’ of their work. In essence, they’re all about the importance of sharing the process and taking others on your journey too - instead of the traditional idea of keeping it all hidden until hitting the publish button or opening the exhibition doors.
One part that got me thinking is the importance of community when learning or developing a craft. Kleon refers to this kind of group as a ‘Scenius’ - a combination of scene and genius, a term originally coined by musician Brian Eno. We imagine geniuses over the centuries to be working late into the night, every night, feverish almost in dedication to their craft.
But geniuses aren’t made in a vacuum. Even Beethoven, who was notoriously difficult to get along with, had contemporaries he trusted dearly to provide feedback and help him get better at his craft.
Many years ago when I was learning to be a DJ (yes, that happened), I managed to go from never touching a turntable to playing live in clubs within 6 months. How? I fell in with the right circles - groups of industry experts and experienced performers - and hung out with them every single weekend. I learned exactly how they approached their craft, including all of the inside tips and tricks, pitfalls to avoid (even though I fell into some anyway), and how to do things that would have taken ages to figure out on my own.
As humans, we’re wired to look for shortcuts. Who doesn’t want to get abs, get rich, or learn a new skill faster? Good news: while you still have to do the work, and it will still take time, a scenius can expose you to the curated experiences and conversations to learn and integrate at a much quicker rate.
A Scenius isn’t just for artists. It could be learning basketball, piano, or how to not burn down your kitchen on a live stream. Whatever it is, make sure you go hunting for your community of practice. You’ll get there so much faster.
📄 Quick reads
A few articles I’ve enjoyed recently:
Writing while Asian - a Korean author writes about the not-so-subtle tokenisation of Asian writers and being on top of the interview list for media whenever something bad and racial happens.
Collateral damage of Queen Elizabeth’s glorious reign - A fascinating look at the bleak realities of being a member of the British Royal Family.
Pop stars on life after the spotlight moves on - I’ve always wondered what big musicians, famous actors and other celebrities do to fill, well, the rest of their time on Earth. They do have entire decades left, and converting to a new religion and changing your first name to Yusuf isn’t for everyone.
💬 And I quote
If you wish to be a warrior, prepare to be broken,
if you wish to be an explorer, prepare to get lost,
and if you wish to be a lover,
prepare to be both.
- Daniel Saint
📚 What I’m learning
How to not take things personally.
One of the Four Agreements from Toltec Wisdom, this is a hard pill for someone like me to swallow who can often feel like every negative action by others is a personal vendetta. Even though it’s in the background, and for most of us that type of accidental, conditioned thinking is, it takes focus away from the present moment and energy from your day-to-day life. It’s just not worth it.
In perfectly expected fashion given last newsletter’s story about reactions, as soon as I set this as a personal task, a challenger entered the arena. It took me a good 24 hours to convince myself that it wasn’t personal, and I don’t know the exact details. Why do I always assume the worst intentions from others when I’m annoyed?
That actually leads into another of the Four Agreements, but maybe that will be my challenge next week.