The wellness case for learning new skills
In the summer of 2016 I was very unhappy. I was coming up on my year anniversary of living in London, where we had moved from Brooklyn for my husband’s job, but I still felt pitifully lonely and poorly adjusted to the culture. I reentered therapy, tried to socialize often, started volunteering, and focused on doing things for pleasure rather than out of obligation.
But there was one thing that alleviated my sadness more than others: I learned to drive a stick shift.
In Europe, automatics were more expensive to rent, so it was in my best interest to try to overcome any manual driving anxiety head-on. My husband and I decided to spend two weeks in France, and I spent much of that vacation stalling out on country roads, navigating dreaded traffic circles, and ultimately speeding down the highways. When I returned to London I told people about the beaches and baguettes in France, but I mostly wanted to talk about how I could now officially drive stick.
I had discovered the beauty of “micromastery”: working to develop competence in a single, concrete skill. The term was coined by the writers Tahir Shah and Robert Twigger; Twigger later published his 2017 book, Micromastery: Learn Small, Learn Fast, and Unlock Your Potential to Achieve Anything, which contains instructions for laying a brick wall, making sushi, and brewing beer. In the introduction, Twigger writes that he was stymied by the idea that he had to work for years to acquire any truly valuable skill, but that he still wanted to learn and create, so he decided to focus on making the perfect omelet: his first micromastery.