it's okay to be under construction

February 9th, 2016

During my sabbatical I had the time to re-examine my life, try a lot of new things and build some helpful new mental habits. This series is about those habits.

Under construction is the name I give to the process of learning a new skill. You've been building this skill for a while, you've made some tangible progress. But you're still a pretty long way from having mastered it. From having nailed it. From knowing it so well that you can apply it without having to think about it.

That's where we all want to be. We want to learn that skill and feel that we're indistinguishable from people who've had it (we think) all along. We want to fit in with that group and we think mastering this skill will get us there.

Those with a perfectionist mindset will find this very familiar. Whatever it is you're working on you don't want to share it before "it's ready". You don't want to be seen doing it until you're "good at it". You just don't want to allow the possibility of judgment from other people on something that you very well know "isn't good enough yet".

This mindset is particularly self sabotaging in language learning. Learning a language is a very long and difficult process. When we begin learning a new language we are reduced to toddlers in our ability to communicate with others. And it's not just a practical problem - it can put your identity into question. "I don't like myself when I'm reduced to this - it's not fun being me." It takes years of focused effort to be able to enjoy a similar level of skill and mastery as you have in a language you already know well.

This feeling of being "under construction", of being "in development" and not ready for prime time yet can be very discouraging when it persists for a long time. It's fun to tell people you're learning a new language after two weeks, but when you keep getting the question "so how is your Dutch?" after many years... myeah.

What all of these kinds of unhelpful thoughts have in common is that they don't stand up to scrutiny. We all have thoughts - some are positive, others less so. But do we examine them? Do we ask "is it really true"?

It's okay to be under construction. We spend a considerable part of our lives being "under construction" in various aspects of our lives. We should learn to appreciate this process. Under construction means work is being done, progress is being made. Under construction is the norm, not the exception. We spend much longer constructing than we do admiring the finished structure. It feels like it's just you constructing, but we're all constructing different things.