Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Tightrope Walker

A scene from my childhood that I will never forget was a tightrope walker performing his piece in a circus. I was just about twelve years old and that was the first time that I ever saw such a performance. I was really impressed with the artist’s ability to move his body in the open space with only a tightrope under his feet and an open umbrella used to keep his balance. I was excited but fearful that he could miss his step and fall. Somehow he kept moving right along until he finally made it to safety. The audience applauded him very enthusiastically. I was excited but also relieved. I look back and review that moment at the circus as I try to define the meaning of “learning”. As a kid I was really impressed to see that performance but never thought of what it took for the artist to reach such a level of excellence. I realize now that no matter how talented someone is, it takes years of practice to be able to perform such skill, let alone doing it in front of an audience. Learning in that case is very intense. Considering that learning is a very subjective matter, I can only express how it applies to me. Learning is a process that evolves from motivation or necessity. In either case, I need to be willing to sacrifice myself in exchange for some kind of compensation later which may be professional recognition, or simple pleasure. Some important factors of learning are motivation, repetition, concentration, discipline and hard work.

Motivation is the driving force in the process of learning. Just having the desire to learn something does not do much for me. I must be convinced that I will benefit somehow from the experience. I must ask myself the following questions several times before engaging in the learning process: Why is it important? What are the benefits? What I am accomplishing with that experience? Where is it going to take me? Once I answer some of these questions satisfactorily it becomes the fuel for me to move along with the plan. I then willingly accept the commitment of working towards the desired goal. Motivation could also be based on others experiences or influenced by someone else’s opinion.

Learning is a continuous thing in my day-to-day life on the job. In order to perform my work in a satisfactory manner, I need to be as consistent as possible. Consistency comes from repetition which plays a very important role in giving me the confidence required to deliver the results that the company wants; however, because clients are constantly changing, so are the projects and processes. Just when I get comfortable in doing things a particular way, it is time for me to move on to something else. Learning for me is a gradual thing. I only become better at something when I am continuously exposed to the job at hand. Initially, I learn to get a grasp on it and eventually I am comfortable enough to focus on the details. In other words, learning never really stops and repetition is one key element of it.

When it comes to concentration, I draw a parallel with the scene of the artist who performed the tightrope act in the circus. Similarly to him, I also walk a fine line under the attentive eyes of an audience. When performing my experiments, there is no room for distractions, as for the tightrope walker performing in front of the crowd. His shaky and timed step on the rope resembles the careful considerations I have to take before moving on to the next process step. Each detail is important and I need to focus just like him. Experience gives me an edge but it is not a guarantee of absolute success. There is always a discomfort I have to deal with associated with learning a new process from scratch. That feeling comes from the fear of messing things up and causing downtime and spending valuable company resources. For that reason I need to concentrate twice as hard when performing new tasks until it becomes second nature.

Discipline and hard work are both important factors. The expression: “no pain, no gain” literally applies for just about anything I do in life. It implies that if I am not willing to go through the discomforts associated with learning, I would never be able to reach a satisfactorily level in terms of knowledge and skill. When learning, I need to plan accordingly and be able to track my progress over time. As a kid I marveled at the artist’s great performance. I never really thought of what it took for him to reach his level of success. No doubt, his performance was the finished product of his hard work, commitment and self-determination.

I clearly understand that, in a broad sense, learning has always been the natural path for human survival. Despite technological advancements and how they have made my life easier, ultimately, learning rests with my mind’s ability to process and assimilate the information presented to me. In order for me to learn my brain needs to be stimulated and motivated. At work, I am constantly engaged in learning new processes and ways to improve existing ones. Learning is the only way for me to succeed not only as a professional but also as an individual. Perhaps my understanding and thirst for learning will enable me to someday walk the tightrope of my own life as graciously as the gentleman from the circus that I saw so long ago.

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