Archive | January, 2013

Learning to Learn

7 Jan

I’m not much for New Year’s resolutions, but I admire those who do make them.  For example, my uncle has resolved in 2013NY resolution Calvin and Hobbes
to be a constant learner. Several days before he noted this, my sister had commented that the dullest aspect of adulthood is a diminishing learning curve. Kids are so anxious to keep up with their peers, to reach the next milestone. But eventually the majority of us reach a point at which we know everything required to function in our everyday lives, and we settle into a humdrum way of life without giving it much thought. That got me thinking about the characteristics that adults tend to develop which prevent them from continually learning as kids do. As a result of this brainstorm, I arrived upon two major road blocks standing in our way:

1) Resistance to correction. I find myself getting angry or defensive with friends and colleagues when they point out areas in which I could improve. I think this is partially because I’ve associated being an adult with no longer being told what to do. But that’s a paltry view of adulthood. As I am realizing more and more, being corrected is one of the most effective means by which to learn and grow as a person. The unpleasantness of the experience sears it into my memory. Then, once I recover and realize that the corrector is indeed correct, I make a concerted effort to not repeat the error.

T SwiftLast year, I lived with a woman and her daughter in exchange for rent and helping them out with cleaning and babysitting. I would sometimes drive the daughter (let’s call her Natasha) to her friends’ houses or to school and other activities. During one of these car trips, I had the radio on and was attempting to sing along even though I didn’t know the lyrics very well. Natasha calmly told me, “You know, whenever I hear a new song on the radio that I like, I always listen to it a couple of times first so that I can learn the words.” This comment, from an eight-year-old, stung a little. But she was very right, and I now know the lyrics to all of  T. Swift’s latest hits because of Natasha.

And just a couple of weeks ago, I got into a little tiff with a woman at work who believes she is my boss (this is a figment of her imagination, and a story for another time) about how to interact with one of my customers. I became very defensive because I felt like she was stepping into my territory. It was none of her business how I dealt with my customers – they were mine, not hers. But after a day of feeling indignant, I realized she was right. Her comment had been that this particular customer needs more attention than I was giving her. While I was initially resistant to her two cents, I now find myself much more willing to write little emails to customers (not just the overly needy one!) updating them about when their orders will arrive, or why they were delayed. It is a hassle to do so, but has certainly eased tensions between me, my imaginary boss, and the attention-mongering customer (which will also be the title to my next self-help book, in case you were wondering).

2) Fear of risk. Adults like security. Probably kids do, too, but since that security rests in the hands of their parents, it’s not something they think about too much. Knowing what we already know is safe. Attempting to go beyond these bounds, in the form of say deepening a relationship, or taking up a new hobby such as salsa dancing,  or even in the most literal form of going back to school, is scary. What if, in the first instance, we discover something about the other person we don’t like, or don’t want to know? In the second instance, what if we’re no good at said-hobby, and it seems like a big waste of time? And in the third instance, what if the financial cost is never re-paid, or the new career after further schooling is worse than the one we had before?

We start over-thinking about how stretching ourselves might end up in failure, and that is when the failure begins. I find this happening in my violin practice these days. If I were to start to learn to play violin today, at 24, I would likely give up by my half birthday. But having started in the fourth grade, I somehow did not mind my screechy playing and inability to locate actual scale notes (though I found many in-between!) on the strings. I was, for whatever reason, convinced that I would improve, and content with my progress. I didn’t think ahead – I just practiced, however unwillingly at times. But that’s the thing – kids just do, albeit with some prodding from their parents. And they don’t beat themselves up when just doing results in a squeaky violin performance, or a sloppily drawn picture. They’re trusting in the learning process to eventually transform these into sonorous music, or art worth looking at.

Here’s to learning in my cooking! This recipe is for Asian lettuce wraps. The risk? Bean thread noodles – I didn’t think I would be able to cook them properly, considering they start out with the texture of switchgrass. Oh, and please do correct me if this recipe isn’t up to par! Before sharing, I should mention that this recipe was adapted from the ‘Cooking Light’ one: My version uses dried cilantro leaves, cuts out the sesame oil, substitutes iceberg lettuce for the Romaine or Boston varieties (the iceberg crunch is critical!), and starts with raw chicken. It’s less calories, slightly easier, and a little cheaper…



2 oz. bean thread noodles

1-2 Tbs. chili paste with garlic

1/4 cup soy sauce

2 cups raw boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces

iceberg lettuce

dried cilantro, S&P for seasoning


Boil hot water. Turn off heat. Submerge bean thread noodles in hot water for 5 min. (They will go from very stiff and white to soft and translucent). Drain. Snip noodles with scissors into small bits.

Meanwhile, spray stir fry pan with PAM and cook chicken. Add soy sauce and chili paste. Season with cilantro and S&P. Add in bean thread noodles.

Chop lettuce. It’s pretty much impossible to create pretty leaf cups for your chicken, so whatever leafy creation you come up with at this step should work just fine.

Eat chicken/noodle mixture with lettuce. Yum, yum, yum!

CALORIES (per serving): 190