August 12, 2018

Each year, when summer hits the doldrums of August, and every day seems to stretch out in front of us, languid and hot, I remember that this endlessness is false. In a blink it will be time to check school supply lists, gear up, and get back on the bus. So, as we’re about to return to our regularly scheduled programming, no matter how much we “don’t wanna,” here are some thoughts on learning new things:

For most of my life I didn’t like olives. We always had them in our fridge, the small green cocktail variety stuffed with pimento, because my dad had a penchant for slicing them up and placing them very precisely on his Saturday afternoon bologna sandwich.

I love pickles, and pretty much anything else salty, savory, and sour. Olives fit right into that category, so I always felt that I should like them.  I kept trying them, each and every time my dad made his sandwich, but my taste buds rejected them completely, and I was disappointed.

Then, surprise, I tried olives again when I was about thirty-five. And guess what?  I loved that first over-thirty olive, and I’ve been eating them like mad ever since.

What changed?

Maybe it was the variety of olives available at the gourmet bar of Wegmans, which went way beyond my dad’s little jarred olives. Maybe it was a change in my taste buds, a proven physiological fact of aging (I think).  Loving olives after I didn’t like them for so long has led me to some other related conclusions:

First, my mother was right about trying things again and again because you never know when something might change.  I can admit this now since I am a mother, and I’m more often right than not right. Don’t we always tell our kids to keep trying something even if they don’t like it the first time?  It still holds true when we grow up. Behold – olives! I will add the caveat that if you’ve tried something several times as an adult and really don’t enjoy it, it’s okay to give up, I mean, move on.  Downhill skiing, for instance.  Or oysters. I have moved on from both of these.

Next, liking olives has made me wonder what else I might have liked or been good at as a kid if I’d tried a different approach then.  The growth mindset is what this is called, based on the required freshman-year reading at my kids’ high school (Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck), a formalized, documented offshoot of the try, try again axiom.

Math, for instance.  I might have liked it. All through school I detested math and decided I wasn’t good at it. Yet now, both my teenaged daughters are very good at and enjoy math.  When Claire describes why she loves math – it’s neat and organized, formulaic, there’s always a right answer – I wonder why I never liked it, since all math’s fundamental properties seem to align with how I approach life overall. But when I was growing up there was one way to do math, and if you didn’t get it, that was just too bad. What else, in addition to math (ha, get it?) might I have enjoyed or excelled at if I’d shifted my perspective? How about soccer? High ropes courses? Water skiing?  I’m not saying I would have liked or been good at any of these things I tried and failed at.  But who knows?

I think for my own kids, the pace and understanding of technology in their everyday world leads to a more plastic, innovative approach overall.  Of course, just like when my mom constantly told me to try new things, I didn’t always comply, and neither do my kids. But since I’m forty-four and not fourteen, I hope I can show them by example that continuing to try new and different ways of doing things, having that growth mindset, can lead to new and wonderful knowledge, understanding, success, and enjoyment. 

And each time I eat an olive, I repeat to them how tasty it is, and how I never used to like olives …


About our Blogger:

Elizabeth Dougherty is a freelance writer in Chester County, Pennsylvania.  Her blog, Plan Q, chronicles real, everyday experiences and viewpoints — funny, stressful, tearful, mundane — and how they all tie together to define our lives. She aims to make her readers laugh, cry, feel, think, and wonder.  That’s what writing and reading do for her, and if she can pass on any of that, then all the twists and turns that whip her right past Plans A through P and land her at Plan Q are more than worth it! Visit Plan Q at www.elizabethdoughertyfreelanc or connect with her on Facebook.



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