As adults, it’s sometimes hard to remember that feeling of vulnerability that kids have when they’re learning new things. That’s one reason why I continue to value the experience of trying new things out in the world—I think it helps me be a better teacher.
One thing I’ve been doing recently is solo jazz singing. Although I’ve sung in classical vocal ensembles for years, I got shy about performing as a soloist. Last spring I decided to defeat that shyness, one way or another!
I took a jazz singing workshop at my local community college, which was a blast. [See “In praise of adult ed”] Another thing I’ve been doing is going to a jazz open mike to perform.
It’s great to get up there and be nervous about how well you’re going to perform, but then realize that the important thing is the joy of learning and expanding your boundaries. The people who come to this open mike range from rank amateurs who are just learning to pro’s who want a friendly audience to work through new material.
It’s hard to remember, when I’m there, that this is an unusual experience for most adults. For most of us—and I include myself in this category much of the time—life is about doing what we’re used to and what we feel comfortable with. Once we’re adults and we have a career (or not), we are less likely to take the sorts of risks that kids take for granted.
It’s possible, in normal adult life, to go months without going to a place we’ve never been before, have in-depth conversations with new people, and choose to do something in front of other people that we aren’t sure we can do.
Yet it’s this sort of striving that keeps us alive and learning. Certainly, we can go for months without having a conversation that pulls us out of our comfort zones, but those are the months that get lost in the mists of our memories. We’ll have these long stretches of time from which we can remember next to nothing, but then retain vivid memories of one conversation we had at a school gathering we didn’t really want to go to.
If we adults make an effort to keep striving for new and challenging experiences in our lives, it makes us better teachers and parents. My students, I try to keep in mind, do the equivalent of getting up in front of a jazz band nearly every day of their lives. They are always facing something new, and their bravery is inspiring!