Isn't it great when you learn to do something new. There's that buzz that you get when you discover that, much to your surprise, you are not completely hopeless and can hold your head high. Today I discovered that I am a mean snowboarder on the wii fit securing a gold medal on my second run. Ok - so not that great an achievement and not that hard but it was new and I did it.
Most of my skills have developed slowly over time. I don't remember when I discovered that I could cook or that I could do a no handed cartwheel. I just practised and over time it came. I can no longer do a no handed cartwheel I should point out although my two handed one isn't bad for someone of my age.
Very occasionally you find that you can just do something without any practise but just because you have a natural aptitude for it .I can think of two very different examples. When I was an articled clerk training to be a solicitor, I had to go on a weekend course with all of my peers. The course was designed to focus on the four main departments that we would work in on our route through our training. The department that I had liked the least thus far was litigation. There were so many rules and procedures and everyone seemed incredibly aggressive and antagonistic. I was already starting to think about a career doing deals with the corporate boys and saw litigation as something that I had to get through on my way there.
As part of this course we had to do an exercise in advocacy, an important but not enormous aspect of a litigator's job. We had to argue a mock application in front a couple of senior litigation partners which we had a short while to prepare.I stood up, said my piece and sat down. I can't remember whether I won or not. However, what I do remember as clear as day was the partner taking me on one side afterwards and telling me that I was a natural advocate and that I should be aiming for a job as a litigator. Not only was I horrified at this prospect but I had absolutely no idea what he had seen in me or my performance that marked me out from all the others. He was right though. As I qualified, recession was just starting to bite. Corporate jobs were thin on the ground and my offer of a corporate position was retracted . Instead, I chose to specialise in employment law which spanned both contentious and non contentious work. As a result, I appeared in the Employment Tribunal on countless occasions as advocate for my corporate clients and very rarely lost. It was apparent that the partner concerned was right when he saw whatever it was in me but to this day I couldn't tell you what it was.
The second skill that I seem to have was discovered far more recently at a friend's 40th birthday party. It was one of those corporate challenge type days the idea of which fill me with horror. If it hadn't been for the fact that it was a very close friend's party I would have found an excuse to skip the day and just do the evening. Anyway, I went along full of dread and trepidation to a very cold field just outside Harrogate. We were split into teams and shown the various activities. I almost wept and ran away there and then. There was a go-cart, a hovercraft, a bobcat and various shooting type events. I immediately panicked and retreated in to my shell. I am hopeless at that sort of thing, am not competitive and can't bear to make a fool of myself and yet here I was in a team of complete strangers about to try all these activities for the first time.
Our team was on the hovercraft first. It was a miserable day and incredibly windy. To steer the hovercraft you had to move your body weight around and thus make your way around a course. The combination of my size and the wind meant that I could not steer at all. No matter how hard I threw myself around in the craft I just couldn't get the thing to change direction. I was embarrassed and wanted to go home. The other events were no better. I could just about take the bob-cat round its course but I was never going to win any medals. Then it was our turn on the archery. The chap in charge showed me what to do as I cringed internally at the prospect of failing to achieve anything in yet another event. I was only just strong enough to pull the bow far enough back to release the arrow but I did and the arrow soared towards the target and hit it. Right in the middle. Everyone was astounded and no one more than me. I hadn't been any good at the pistol shooting but I could do this. I scored bulls eye after bulls eye. We were a man down in our team so I shot twice and was consistently good. I scored the highest score of the day. It was incredible.I have never done it since. I wonder if I could.
I had spent 40 years of my life not knowing that I could shoot an arrow at a target with a fair degree of accuracy. I wonder what other skills I may have and haven't yet discovered. It's exciting isn't it. Perhaps snowboarding is one of them?