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Why “The Ugly Duckling Childhood” Is the BEST Thing That Ever Happened to You

Why “The Ugly Duckling Childhood” Is the BEST Thing That Ever Happened to You

I was not a pretty picture as a child or teen — there is no other way to put it. Everything that could be wrong WAS wrong: I was overweight (to put it politely) with teeth sticking out like a rabbit, braces that didn’t help, weak eyes that needed thick spectacles, unwaxed arms and legs (think Amazon rainforests — that will give you the picture) and an oily head of hair which was fit to fry eggs over on most summer days. Don’t faint yet; that’s not all. The final nail in the coffin: I was a complete teacher’s pet (nerd alert!).

Needless to say, my childhood and teenage years consisted of “friendlessness,” embarrassment, mockery — you get the drift. I hated myself, and I hated my life. I often used to think about that fairy tale of the ugly duckling who all the other ducks ignored till she grew up to be a swan, and I used to wonder, will I ever be that Swan?

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The “ugly duckling” phase lasted a long, painful decade (and no, I didn’t transform into Cameron Diaz at the end of it, but at least the rainforest was gone), and it has taken me another decade of being an adult in the real world to realize that those years were the best thing to ever happen to me.

To all those who have had a not so pretty childhood like me, here are the things that you can be proud of thanks to that very phase.

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1. It gave you a “bring it on” attitude.

If you have handled insult and mockery at the age of ten and moved on, there is not much that can ruffle your feathers as an adult — not the politics at work, and not those nagging in-laws. In fact, the antics of the “bully boss” just make you want to giggle; he is a pet in front of that cheerleader you survived in sixth grade. Those difficult early years make you an expert at recognizing overbearing people, handling them with ease and completely shutting them out as required so that they have no impact on you or your confidence. So while your peers struggle and whine, you simply roll your eyes and move on!

2. It made you comfortable in your own skin.

Your life doesn’t revolve around wanting to be beautiful and getting appreciated by the opposite sex. As a child you didn’t survive with the crutch called good looks. While other kids were fussing in front of the mirror, you learned to (had to!) define your worth by other attributes: your mind, your character, who you are as a person. So while others spend adulthood still worrying about their looks (old habits), you are indifferent. You can put on the makeup and enjoy attention if you want; you can also ignore it completely and look like a wreck if you want. The power lies with you.

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3. It prevented you from becoming an egoist.

You may have grown up to be rich and successful; you may have grown up to look drop-dead gorgeous; or you may have grown up to become the most popular person you know — but, it will never go to your head. Inside the adult still lives that little child who remembers how it was to be down in the dumps. Humble beginnings keep you level headed and balanced. Besides, you have dealt with enough proud idiots in your childhood to ever become one. You only shoot for the stars; you don’t float among them.

4. It turned you into a true-blue friend.

What happens when a person has been judged and ignored for years? He doesn’t judge others. He doesn’t ignore others. You never toss a book based on its cover (because your own cover was pretty disastrous once!). You give people the benefit of doubt: you listen to them and you try to accommodate and simply accept the aspects you don’t completely understand — which is a perfect recipe for a lifelong friend. What is more, you know exactly how it is to not have any friends — you’ve been there! So you really value your friendships; you don’t have a lot of superficial friends, but a lot of love and depth in each friendship. That’s your motto!

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5. It helped you learn to be happy in your own company.

You have been lonely as a child, so you appreciate solitude as an adult. You don’t have the constant need for social validation or company. If people are there, you are happy; if people are not there you are still happy. As a child you have learned to spend time with yourself and even today, there are certain things that you love to do alone. You are effortlessly independent and connected with yourself. Some people would kill for that kind of peace you know!

These invaluable attributes are the gift of those early years. The investment lasted through your childhood but the return will last through your life. So look back at that little “ugly duckling” and thank your lucky stars you got to be one, because as it turns out, that fairy tale was true: ugly ducklings do turn into swans afterall.

Featured photo credit: nature.desktopnexus.com via nature.desktopnexus.com

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Last Updated on January 21, 2020

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

Curiosity

Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

Patience

Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

A Feeling for Connectedness

This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

How to Self-Taught Effectively

With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

1. Research

Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

Learning the Basics

Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

Hitting the Books

Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

Long-Term Reference

While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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2. Practice

Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

3. Network

One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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4. Schedule

For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

Final Thoughts

In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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