The answer to a great many things

Matt at Ride A Wave, June 2003

Matt trains at Ride a Wave in Santa Cruz, California, June 2003
Each year, Olympic surfers and first responders provide free training
for people with special needs learning to surf and kayak.

“I have a feeling that in the end, probably, that training is the answer to a great many things. You can do a lot if you are properly trained, and I hope I have been.”
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom

With characteristic reserve, Queen Elizabeth II summed up her secret for handling the demands of her long career as she marked the 40th year of her reign.  As her biographer Sally Bedell Smith pointed out, “Her formal education was spotty by today’s standards. Women of her class and generation were typically schooled at home, with greater emphasis on the practical than the academic.”  Now, with the Queen having passed the 60-year anniversary of her reign, and seemingly destined to be the longest-ruling monarch in Britain’s history, it would appear that her practical education has served her well.

As Matt’s multiple learning disabilities were diagnosed one by one, we learned firsthand the invaluable role of training, as developmental milestones that happen naturally for most children had to be taught to Matt with patience, practice and repetition. It’s really no different for anyone; when it comes to becoming more adept at a skill, even the gifted must rely on hours of disciplined training and practice.

The good news is that training for competence is within the reach of anyone who longs to improve, and is willing to put in the time required.  Often, we will have to prioritize among many opportunities and focus on one, or just a few, to achieve mastery before moving on to other skills. But the opportunities for training, whether self-taught or with help, have never been as widely available and relatively affordable as they are now.

What would you like to get better at?  Do you know of any online learning opportunities you’d like to share?  Feel free to post links in the comments below.


  1. Mike Bertoglio

    I have been trying to learn Spanish for a number of years. In NYC I have had lots of opportunities to practice these last two months. A neat site is where you can practice languages- not only Spanish- and you also communicate with other learners.

    • Thanks for sharing that link, Mike. I love learning new languages, even if only a few words for travel or just for fun. Languages fascinate me. I’m sure you found, as I have, that practicing with those who are fluent in the language is the quickest way to get comfortable speaking it. I have noticed that people are very supportive and helpful if I just make the attempt to say a few words, no matter how incompetent I may be with the effort. I so admire people who can speak many other languages, and some of my favorite blogs are written by people for whom English isn’t a first language.

  2. What a nice program to have access to for Matt. Accomplishing a new task does so much for ones confidence and a bonus when it’s something fun like being on the beach and in the water.
    I’d like to do so many things better like watercolour painting and playing guitar. I took lessons years ago and played ok for some time. Then I put my guitar away and neglected it. Now I have the time to renew that interest. There are on line sites but I’d like that outing once a week to a lesson.

    • I really wish I had learned to play the guitar. My friend Ellis is a gifted musician, and she used to play and sing to me during our college years when I would get what Holly Golightly (from Breakfast at Tiffany’s) would call “the mean reds” and I would need someone to sing my depression away. I hope you do learn to play because it’s such a portable instrument and adds fun to any occasion. It would be fun just to play and sing to oneself, I think. I also want to learn watercolor. I took a brief course in it and was stunned to learn what could be achieved with mixing colors. When it comes to learning, the possibilities are endless — we are so lucky.

      • I can play by hear only cords and don’t read music. But I’d like to get better since it was a gift from my dad. Ellis sounds very talented. I’ve seen many high profile people in Hollywood become Artists, it would be awesome to have that talent at hand. I know your time is not your own to plan these days, but I hope you are able to enjoy painting again soon.

        • Thanks, Boomdee – I’ll send you some of my prints someday if you’ll send me some of your demo songs :-).

  3. I would like to get better at using all the technology that is out there. I get frustrated when I am trying something new and tend to let others do it for me. My children have often helped me out but they are grown and out the door now so it would be good for me to be more comfortable using technology. Great photo. I bet Matt loved that time.

    • Hi Amy, I think you can get more fluent with technology if you are willing to deal with the constant variety of frustrations it involved; the systems keep changing, so there’s no such thing as “being there” when it comes to learning, and that’s not even talking about the many glitches and malfunctions that happen to the most seasoned user. I’d suggest starting with something for which there’s a strong incentive – learning to use digital music, books, or photo files, for example – so there will be a “payoff” that makes the frustration seem worthwhile. I got a phone call today from a friend in Hawaii who refuses to even start using email, which means we can only talk when she happens to reach me at home, or I remember to call her when the time difference doesn’t mean I’ll be waking her. I’ve wished so many times she would do email!

  4. I consider myself a lifelong learner. There are so many things I want to learn: how to cook better, how to speak French (more or better since I have learned some), and how to surf (now that I’ve had 1 lesson). And many more things (maybe even revisit those piano lessons I had many years ago). 😀

    • Moi aussi! I think being a life-long learner is really an important key to a happy life. There are just too many interesting things in the world to ever be bored or despondent. I still have my piano, and though I can’t play Bach’s 8th invention anymore (nor even Scott Joplin) I do sit down and plink away at it from time to time, and tell myself someday I’ll go back to it. Nous pourrions peut-être aller à Paris un jour et pratique!

      • LOL! Yes, Paris would be lovely to practice in. 😉 And yes, I agree about being a lifelong learner. If you aren’t willing to learn new things, if you think you already know it all, well … those people tend to be very dull (and drive me slightly nuts). I’ve run across a few of them, and I aspire to never be like that. 😉

        • I think lifelong learners make the best teachers, because they model the joy of learning, AND they learn from their students too. I think young people are much better at imitating what adults do rather than just what they say. So you are definitely in the right profession!


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