It’s common for people to lament some power or ability that they feel they are losing with age. But we rarely celebrate the finely honed skills that we have that we struggled with in our youth.
Today I celebrate the things I do far better, at 40, than I did as a youngster. And many of them amaze me.
I remember typing up papers, one finger at a time. I remember first learning to touch type, struggling with the letters, the stretch, with keeping my fingers in the right position, with accuracy. Today I can type very fast and very accurately with very little thought or effort. I can compose fairly cogent essays on the fly (as I am doing now) far faster on a keyboard than I ever could with paper and pencil. I can think and type at the same time.
I remember STRUGGLING over one page opinion papers in school, working on them for days, getting up at 3 or 4 am before school to finish them, and having them still feel awkward and ragged until the last minute. Today, I can knock one off in maybe an hour if it has to be good, less if it is just an internet comment. I don’t even find a 20 page proposal or document to be particularly difficult, though obviously it takes more time to generate the text. This ASTOUNDS me in retrospect. When did my neurology get so good at this?
I remember as a child being stunned at all the eclectic things my father Just Knew, about science, about economics, about the world, about life. I still am today – but I also have seen my daughter be impressed at all the things I Just Know. Heck, me too, kid.
And I can still learn. In recent years, I’ve acquired a casual knowledge base about ceramics and chickens that surprises me. I am still a voracious reader of fiction and I am pleased to report – contrary to an artificial crisis I had at age 20, where I was sure I had better slow down – that I am in no danger of running out of great fiction to read. People make more every day.
Working with my daughter in math, I realize how many tricks I’ve developed to calculate numbers quickly in my head. I have been reading a book of these tricks, and I was surprised to see that many of them are ones I already know and use, that somehow I’ve either figured them out or absorbed them on my own. I remember STRUGGLING to do math without a calculator in 10th grade, or the deep confusion I had learning long division, the tantrums I had while absorbing algebra, the epiphany I had when I finally understood counting in binary or other number systems other than base ten. Today the neural pathways are so well greased that I can do those things without conscious effort. Only the memory of the struggle reminds me that they were not easy at first.
I remember desperately trying to teach a dog to sit and heel when I was 10. Today my animals seem to come trained… and yet I know they are not. Somehow my body language has refined in a way that I cannot see. The books that I read about training horses, the ones that told me it would all Just Work if I did things Just So… well, they didn’t work then, but they do now.
I can cook many dishes with no cookbook, something that I considered insane when I was in high school. How could anyone just make up a tasty meal on the fly?
Of course, there are things I don’t do as well now, and things I still aspire to do. But, there are many rewards to the long path that sometimes I forget.
So, what are your superpowers, the things you can do now that used to be so difficult?