Posted in Work & Job, Writing

Learning Curves

Home Depot bucketSitting in a “town hall meeting” of Home Depot employees last week, several of us broached the subject of training with our store manager, Jeremy. The Home Depot offers some incredibly structured online training modules (I’m especially grateful for the interactive “Cashier’s College” that helped me weather my first days at the register!) but several of us felt our on-the-ground training had been rather haphazard. Invited to critique our experiences as employees, we gave voice to what we saw as gaps in the training process.

Jeremy is a master at the positive spin, and he proved as much in the town hall meeting. While he acknowledged the concern and validated our experiences, he also spun our critique into a pep-talk of a learning-moment. “Well, it IS a do-it-yourself store,” he said with a laugh, after acknowledging our concerns, and sharing the challenges inherent in employee training—“and sometimes that do-it-yourself culture will apply to learning too.” He talked like a teacher, speaking of Pushed Learning (like the online modules that are “served up” to the learner) contrasted with Pulled Learning (when you seek out the new knowledge for yourself).

Essentially he was inviting us to consider whether we’re content with limiting ourselves to what gets served up on a platter, or whether we want to take charge of our own experience. I came away feeling inspired to demonstrate that I AM invested in my own learning.

An orange-apron learning-journey… saying goodbye to the Garden register

It was a timely pep-talk for me, because I’m embarking on a whole new learning-journey with my move from cashiering to the Service Desk. While I’m excited about the move, I’m all too aware that it’s a steep learning curve. There’s a whole new (complex) computer system and a load of new procedures and services for me to master before I’ll be effective there.

All in all, it’s the perfect time for me to feel inspired.

I applied some of the same attitude to last weekend’s three-day motorcycle class. The classroom segments were definitely “pushed learning,” but the range practice required more. No one is guaranteed a completion card just by taking the course—in fact, several students failed the skills testing—but I can happily report that my completion card will be in the mail this week, and I can officially add the motorcycle endorsement to my license when it arrives.

In order to accomplish that, I had to get past the step-by-step verbal instructions being shouted to us and feel the bike. Stopping. Swerving. Weaving. Cornering. (This is a venue where the “learning curves” are literal curves!)

sailboat helm
barefoot at the helm, 2008

It brings to mind the feeling when I was learning to sail. That’s another sport when (literal) smooth sailing only happens when you come to feel the boat. Sure, you have to take into account that the tide is pulling one way and the wind pushing another and there’s a dock right there and you don’t have brakes… But I reached a point in my training where I could finesse that docking maneuver by feeling the conditions instead of thinking about them. And it feels SO good when you get there.

I think the reason sailing comes to mind is because it’s one of the few physical feats where I’ve felt In Flow like that (“Flow” being a term writers and artists use to describe those periods of creative productivity that feel effortless)…

My more usual venues for Flow are mental ones—I’m uncoordinated and clumsy, book-smart but body-dumb. I’m the girl who could ace college physics but fall up an escalator. I chose track for my sport because running-in-a-circle was what I could manage. I write in Flow, but I hadn’t experienced that kind of physical Flow… Until I started sailing.

my target from concealed carry class… 100 rounds, fewer than 100 holes.

Same thing when I learned to shoot. I’m not killing my paper target because I’m thinking about the mechanics of shooting—I’ve learned to feel the weapon and put those rounds where I want them to go. It’s another time when I’m physically in Flow.

And now I’ve felt it on the motorcycle. The bike didn’t swerve around a testing-obstacle because I was thinking of how to counter-steer in tight quarters. It swerved because… well, because it went where I put it. That probably sounds stupid or obvious, but it marks a different place in the learning curve, when you can accomplish something without having to think it through first. Or maybe it’s more fair to say the “thinking” is naturally incorporated into the “doing.”

Now I’m eager to keep riding, to experience more of that feeling of Flow, to keep gaining finesse in my skills. I’ve been taking out the bike in the cool of the mornings for some more parking-lot practice at cornering and weaving, and I feel like a whole different rider from the me-of-a-week-ago. The tentative second-guessing is gone and I’m feeling the bike.

I’m looking forward to feeling that way at the Service Desk. I know it won’t happen today… but I’m invested in my learning!



I am... a writer, an explorer, a coffee-drinker, a recovering addict, a barefoot linguist, a book-dragon ("bookworm" doesn't cover it), a raconteur, a sailboat skipper, a research diver, a tattooed scholar, a pirate, a poet, a spiritual adventurer, a photographer, a few kinds-of-crazy, a joyful wife, a mom... a list-maker! :)

4 thoughts on “Learning Curves

  1. feeling it instead of thinking about it…this can be applied many things, motorcycling, sailing or writing (in flow). When I’m photographing there is a moment when I do not care or better I do not think what I’m doing, how to frame or which parameter I set on my camera. I just “feel” what I’m doing and what I have to do. And I know it will work!


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