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Keeping Friendships for Life and Beyond

Keeping Friendships for Life and Beyond

Your first friend

It was the freckled girl in pigtails who spent hours hearing about your true love without once telling you that you are talking baloney (yes you were and you know it). Endless lunch hours spent giggling because your crush looked in your direction (the fact that he was just looking for his lost pencil was not discussed); endless notes passed in class discussing his dimples, endless phone calls abusing that ‘other girl’. Ms. Pigtails was your first friend. When that crush went away with that other girl, Ms. Pigtails stayed with you.

Then, of course, there was that dorky friend, jokes so bad they made you want to cry but got you through your difficult high school years. You still remember a few of those horrible jokes and giggle, don’t you? First friend number two.

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Along the years we all have had those friends. The ones who stalk your crushes with more enthusiasm than you, roll their eyes at the exact same time you do, treat your gossip with the same seriousness that Obama brings to world affairs, turn violently abusive towards people just because you mildly dislike them and shower you with unsolicited advice to the point that you want to scream.

Along the way, we lose a few of those friends. In those moments, we miss them, we blame life and circumstances, or just tell ourselves that this is the natural way of life.

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Well, I’ve also lost a lot of friends, but I’ve found a few lasting friendships too. Here are some lessons learnt on keeping ‘your person’ –  the sugar to your cake, the fizz to your Cola.

1. Accept things, friendships change, it’s not the end

It’s easy to be two peas in a pod when you are in the same university, studying the same courses. Not so much when you get a job, get married, have kids. That’s OK. He will not always be available to go drinking with you like college days. She will not always treat your boyfriend problems as the number one priority in her life. Yes, that’s upsetting. It’s even more upsetting when you feel like they have moved on. Got married, while you remain a bachelor. Changed jobs while you remain in the same one. It’s upsetting because not only do you struggle with the fact that you have drifted apart, you also get jealous of the things they have and you don’t. How do you tell your friend that you need their attention because you are an insecure child inside? That you are also jealous of them? Well, SAY IT. Pick up the phone and tell them you miss them and want to meet!

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2. Stay a little possessive

Sounds very contradictory, doesn’t it? Yes OK, we are adults; you can’t just go fight with her because she went shopping with some other friend. But what if for once you did? What if sometimes you just act like a freckled pig-tailed pigheaded little child who demands time. Who calls for an emergency drinking session because the boss has been particularly nasty that day. Who wants undivided attention while lamenting on a haircut gone wrong. Who refuses to share that friend for a few hours – no family, no work, no nothing! Immaturity and possessiveness don’t always kill a relationship; sometimes, in little quantities, they just make it warmer, sweeter, snugglier (Yes, I know that’s not a word!).

Your demanding to be priority number one for an evening won’t turn the world upside down. So do it, demand a little time for just the two of you and let your friend try to suppress their exasperated chuckles while clearing their schedule to accommodate you.

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3. Have a common ground

It may have been years since you connected over a shared passion – hatred for the same teacher, love for the same girl, lack of comprehension of the same subject. As you go on your different life paths, let something hold you together. It could be a common hobby – music, travel, dance, yoga. And, if you are like me, it would probably be something inane and stupid – love for chocolate fudge, hate for Ms. Perfect with the perfect Facebook pictures. It doesn’t really matter; what matters is to keep it alive. So take out time to spend a few hours connecting on shared passions in your adult life. Meet on the day you are ‘officially’ on a break from dieting (as opposed to unofficially, which is every day) and make obscene sounds of ecstasy over that shared ice cream sundae. After all, no one really understands an ice cream sundae the way our ‘also on a diet’ friends do.

4. Don’t get caught up in ‘the plan’

You know, the plan to meet at that chic club has been in the making for three months. Trust me; it may just be easier to make a baby than follow through on that  ‘plan’. It’s not college anymore where no one has a life so everyone shows up. Real life is cluttered with a million things to do, so don’t clutter it up further with elaborate plans. Just catch up. At that little shoe-box café right outside work, at each other’s untidy homes where kids are wailing, or at that particularly dull park with the ghostly tree. Just meet wherever you can to talk and laugh. Every friendship reaches a point where sometimes the best thing to do is to just be together.

So that’s my unsolicited advice. I hope I’m able to follow it as well. I can just about imagine myself sitting next to my friends when I’m 80 badmouthing our Facebook connections. Now that would have been a life well-lived!

With that, I sign off. And dial that number already!

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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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