Skip to Content
Blog

Learning New Stuff As An Adult Rules

I mean it also sucks, but it also rules

You might remember that I am a pretty sub-par musician. This is despite playing a whole bunch of instruments, including the guitar, cello, alto and tenor saxes, and now the ukulele, which I picked up back in February and have been obsessed with ever since. A new instrument means a universe of new things to learn, and given that you’re likely an adult, I’m here to inform you that learning new things as an adult rules. OK, it distinctly doesn’t rule. There’s plenty of info out there to suggest that it’s harder to learn new things as we get older, and beyond whatever’s going on in our meat sacks, there are also just less opportunities to be a beginner as you fall into the routines of adult life. Adult demands on your time mean you might not have the space to devote to getting better at something the way you did when you were young. You’re afflicted with an adult’s self-awareness and self-consciousness, coupled with aging’s decline in your strength, dexterity, and reflexes. All this means it’s harder to be good at new things, and more embarrassing to be bad at them. Nevertheless, the bulk of my evenings lately have been spent alternating between editing blogs on this website and tooling around on my ukulele. I’ve fallen down a rabbithole of bluegrass and clawhammer styles, the latter requiring an entirely new strumming hand shape and pattern that is utterly baffling to me. Since I came from guitar, it hasn’t been too hard to get passable-to-good at regular songs, and even some very basic bluegrass picking, but when I open up my clawhammer book, things turn into hours of painfully slow, atonal or whisper-quiet picking and fumbling the style’s “bum-ditty” pattern into a clumsy jangle. I sound like a five-year-old learning their first rendition of “Twinkle Twinkle” on a recital tape you’d pull out to embarrass them before college graduation. It’s awful. But it’s also fucking great. It’s so entirely new to me that every minor, uncertain improvement feels like a life-altering achievement. There’s a fascinating new world of best practices and lexicons to learn, and advanced songs I’m desperate to play that keep me inspired. My horrendous rendition of “Cluck Old Hen” is a miracle if one third of the notes come out audible, but sometimes I can play one-third of the notes! As an adult, and also being an adult who is me and lives in my brain, it’s hard to remember that it’s OK to be bad at things. It’s something I’ve struggled with in most of the new endeavours I picked up since getting sober, a decision that requires both a terrible amount of introspection and an existentially traumatic quantity of time to fill. I feel outraged when I struggle while biking or running, seeing any whisper of challenge as a sign that I’m a failure or a “poser” (one of my weirdest hangups), and all of this despite the fact that I went from being basically glued to a bar stool for over a decade to running the New York Marathon, not through any natural talent but by making stupid early sobriety decisions and having an unhealthy love of suffering. Was it a good marathon performance? God no! But I learned to run a marathon! Sucking at the ukulele feels less upsetting than sucking at running, maybe because I’ve been using my legs since I was little but not playing this instrument, or maybe because the ukulele is such a charming little instrument that it’s hard to get mad while playing it. It is so much fun to be so bad at, and so rewarding to get incrementally better, even if that progress is uncertain and nonlinear. And since I’m an adult in my 40s, there’s none of the youthful pressure of “I should get good at this and join the band to put on my college applications” or “I should turn this into a side hustle to pay off those college loans,” just hours of noisily entertaining myself while pissing off the neighbors. I’m not advocating that you should learn the ukulele (though you should, it rules!), but I am advocating that you should learn something, especially if it’s something you have no desire to turn into a job or a YouTube channel or even show someone else. Come suck at something with me! It’s fun as hell.
Edward Eyer|

Learning to skateboard: also a thing adults are into now!

You might remember that I am a pretty sub-par musician. This is despite playing a whole bunch of instruments, including the guitar, cello, alto and tenor saxes, and now the ukulele, which I picked up back in February and have been obsessed with ever since. A new instrument means a universe of new things to learn, and given that you’re likely an adult, I’m here to inform you that learning new things as an adult rules.

OK, it distinctly doesn’t rule. There’s plenty of info out there to suggest that it’s harder to learn new things as we get older, and beyond whatever’s going on in our meat sacks, there are also just less opportunities to be a beginner as you fall into the routines of adult life. Adult demands on your time mean you might not have the space to devote to getting better at something the way you did when you were young. You’re afflicted with an adult’s self-awareness and self-consciousness, coupled with aging’s decline in your strength, dexterity, and reflexes. All this means it’s harder to be good at new things, and more embarrassing to be bad at them. 

Nevertheless, the bulk of my evenings lately have been spent alternating between editing blogs on this website and tooling around on my ukulele. I’ve fallen down a rabbithole of bluegrass and clawhammer styles, the latter requiring an entirely new strumming hand shape and pattern that is utterly baffling to me. Since I came from guitar, it hasn’t been too hard to get passable-to-good at regular songs, and even some very basic bluegrass picking, but when I open up my clawhammer book, things turn into hours of painfully slow, atonal or whisper-quiet picking and fumbling the style’s “bum-ditty” pattern into a clumsy jangle. I sound like a five-year-old learning their first rendition of “Twinkle Twinkle” on a recital tape you’d pull out to embarrass them before college graduation. It’s awful.

But it’s also fucking great. It’s so entirely new to me that every minor improvement feels like a life-altering achievement. There’s a fascinating new world of best practices and lexicons to learn, and advanced songs I’m desperate to play that keep me inspired. My horrendous rendition of “Cluck Old Hen” is a miracle if one-third of the notes come out audible, but sometimes I can play one-third of the notes! 

As an adult, and also being an adult who is me and lives in my brain, it’s hard to remember that it’s OK to be bad at things. It’s something I’ve struggled with in most of the new endeavours I picked up since getting sober, a decision that requires both a terrible amount of introspection and an existentially traumatic quantity of time to fill. I feel outraged when I struggle while biking or running, seeing any whisper of challenge as a sign that I’m a failure or a “poser” (one of my weirdest hangups), and all of this despite the fact that I went from being basically glued to a bar stool for over a decade to running the New York Marathon, not through any natural talent but by making stupid early sobriety decisions and having an unhealthy love of suffering. Was it a good marathon performance? God no! But I learned to run a marathon!

Sucking at the ukulele feels less upsetting than sucking at running, maybe because I’ve been using my legs since I was little but not playing this instrument, or maybe because the ukulele is such a charming little instrument that it’s hard to get mad while playing it. It is so much fun to be so bad at, and so rewarding to get incrementally better, even if that progress is uncertain and nonlinear. And since I’m an adult in my 40s, there’s none of the youthful pressure of “I should get good at this and join the band to put on my college applications” or “I should turn this into a side hustle to pay off those college loans,” just hours of noisily entertaining myself while pissing off the neighbors.

I’m not advocating that you should learn the ukulele (though you should, it rules!), but I am advocating that you should learn something, especially if it’s something you have no desire to turn into a job or a YouTube channel or an interest to put on a dating app. Come suck at something with me! It’s fun as hell.

Already a user?Log in

Thanks for reading Aftermath!

Please register to read more free articles

See all subscription options

Enjoyed this article? Consider sharing it! New visitors get a few free articles before hitting the paywall, and your shares help more people discover Aftermath.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Aftermath

Nobody Has The Time To Play All These Excellent Video Games

Where the fuck did all these bangers come from?

Triple-A Publishers Are Dooming Themselves, But Maybe That’s Not Such A Bad Thing

"If the ideas are there and the game is fun to play, then are we really losing that much?"

CEO Of Take-Two, Reportedly Closing Two Studios, Denies Closing Two Studios

'We didn't shutter those studios', says man who clearly appears to have shuttered two studios

DeviantArt In 2024 Sure Sounds Like A Shithole

Like many websites, it used to be a good one

See all posts