Embracing the Unsettling Truth of Learning: It’s Okay to Lose (Something) While Gaining Experience

I never imagined what the coach and former Olympian would say about learning something new – and it changed everything.

We were sitting at the table for a casual dinner at the start of my rowing camp last weekend. Everyone spoke about their goals for the camp – improving technique, getting rid of bad habits, ultimately making the boat move faster and smoother. Then, one of the coaches said:

“When you are learning, you always have something to lose.”

Something to lose? My first reaction was no, that can’t be right. Then I sat with the idea, right in the middle of the noisy dinner table, and began to sense what she meant in my gut before I could articulate it out loud.

It’s true that you need to lose something to grow, and it’s the scary part we don’t acknowledge.

We aspire to be lifetime learners, seeking the “growth mindset” or the “rookie smarts,” but forget that there is a personal risk to learning and changing. Your identity is tied up in how you act, the level of skill that you believe you have, the habits that you keep.

If you hold on to that old identity too tightly, you can’t change.

When I started to think about giving something up, for my rowing or the other learnings in my life, it was relaxing. Instead of a performative edge, there was a vulnerable opening. I accepted that there would be discomfort, like the microtears in muscle that allow it to grow stronger.

Of course I’d like to be able to tell you I made massive breakthroughs in my rowing ability from this camp. Maybe I did and maybe I didn’t. What I do know is that these words helped me patiently persevere through the “microtears” of new learning, even if it felt uneasy and ungrounded at times.

If you are struggling with a change, ask yourself, “what am I afraid to lose?” And see what happens when you do.

(Photo by Hope Wilkinson)

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