When I was in 10th grade, I struggled with my foreign language, French. We were translating The Sword of Roland, “L’Epee D’Roland.” I am pretty sure that when I spoke in class, it sounded like “Leh pee (!) deh roa-land.” The correct pronunciation would be “Leh peh deh roh-land.” My teacher that year told me he would give me a “C” if I promised never to speak French again, as long as I lived.
I kept that promise for 40 years. I decided two weeks ago to break that promise. Two people in PSL were from France. Their English accents were quite intelligible. I decided if they were brave enough to speak English, I was brave enough to speak French. I started with bonjour, merci, and avec plaisir. I still sound as if I am massacring French. But I’m trying to get the accent right.
I’m learning other things, too. I’m working on my foot articulation in my ballroom dancing. I’m working on my drawing skills so that my drawings for the Agile Architecture workshop with Rebecca Wirfs-Brock are good.
Why all this learning? It turns out that learning new skills increases the general neuroplasticity of your brain. And, given that I need to challenge my brain to rejigger itself to adapt so I can maybe live without medicine someday, I’m learning new things. Learning creates new pathways in your brain. Learning new languages, new physical skills, new drawing skills, are all different, so they all trigger different pathways.
As you think about your adaptability, consider what you need to learn. You may not need to learn something new to retrain your brain. Maybe you need to expand your current abilities a little bit in one area. That’s great. Choose one area, professional or not, and make a commitment to yourself about something you will learn. Make an action plan. (If you haven’t read Behind Closed Doors, action plans have small steps, each of which is achievable in a small chunk of time. Action plans incorporate practice with feedback.)
I fear that my French-speaking colleagues and friends are still going to have to adapt to my French. But I’m learning. And that’s the first step. What’s yours?
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