Building a support network of friends and mentors


  Building a support network of friends and mentors

You need to learn a new skill? You have enough money to pay for it, you're motivated, and you're willing to put in the work. Now what are you waiting for?

Well, if done right, much less than that. A support network of friends and mentors can be a big help when trying to learn any new skill or concept.  They will support your endeavors by offering constructive instruction or feedback on your progress while being there as often as possible for moral (and often material) support should the going get tough.  This is a way to reduce the cost of acquiring a skill by having people around to help you for free.

When I first got into sewing, I was ecstatic. Another skill under my belt, right? But after attempting to make my first shirt (cut out of some cloth that had been sitting in my closet for years), I was frustrated that it didn't fit nicely. It didn't take long before I realized that making clothes isn't easy and there are things you just need to learn before you can make a good-fitting shirt (or any garment).  In this case, it would be how darts work and how to alter your pattern so it fits your body. I wouldn't have known how to do these things without a paid teacher.
I'm not saying that I wouldn't have learned on my own, but for someone who comes from a background of being an avid reader and generally knowledgeable, this would have taken much longer.  I probably would have given up long before making my first garment, because it just takes commitment and time that you don't always have if you're going to school (and that still wouldn't be enough to learn how to sew properly).
Don't let money be the only reason you learn something new. If there are ways you could get the help for free, go for it. You might be surprised what people can do for free.
In short, if you can learn something faster and cheaper, why wouldn't you?
The other obvious reason is that someone in your support network might be a much better teacher than a paid one.  I know what it's like to work with teachers who are paid minimum wage and give mediocre service because they have to deal with so many students (like at my local community college).  It sucks when that's the case. A friend will often do a better job of showing you something than an impersonal college teacher or book author will.
What's a support group?
The idea is rather simple. Friends who are somewhat knowledgeable in something will have more time and patience than your average college teacher. And, since they aren't getting paid for this, you can get a lot of advice for free.  The friends I know are currently learning French as well, and they know that I am too; they will often give me good advice that I wouldn't have gotten if I were just learning with a college teacher.
Most of the friends that come to mind for me are those who share the same interests or hobbies as me (outside of language learning). Many of them are musicians, or people who like reading, writing, going on hikes, traveling. Whatever it is, there's someone out there in your support group who is into the same thing.
At any rate, if you are learning a new skill and you have no one to help you initially, get together with a friend or two and start talking about what you need to learn.  Ask for advice on how to handle the learning process from someone who has already gone through it.  If they can't help you directly, they may be able to put you in touch with someone else who could give you some assistance.
Support groups are great because they do not have to be formal; in fact, I find them quite informal.  You just need to have friends who are willing to be there for you and help you out.
The way I got the people I know into French is that I started talking to them in French.  This sometimes took a while since they didn't know any French, but eventually they were able to understand me and started occasionally correcting my mistakes. From that point on, I was hooked because my mistakes kept getting corrected!
So don't be afraid to start talking in another language with your friends. You may not know a lot but you can ask questions and make observations about what's happening around you (like asking for directions or commenting on how much something costs and using the new words you've learned).
At any rate, it's a worthwhile investment of time to get people into your support network. Who knows? You may just be surprised at the things you learn from them.
Properly supporting yourself
If you're learning a new skill that requires buying books or supplies, having friends can make it much easier to learn on your own.  I know from personal experience that sewing books can get a little boring and repetitive, and the costs add up.  I'm trying to learn from a friend right now, but I don't like to spend that much money on books until I have a decent amount; at the same time, if you can afford to buy books before you start learning, why not?
But what about other skills? If there are things that you need to learn before you can attempt doing something new, it's a good idea to find someone who is already good at it and ask them for some advice.  One of my friends is a professional photographer, and he knows more than most Photoshoppers about what equipment and settings work best.  He is also able to teach me how an image should look when the lighting is just right.  Even if you don't make a living with photography, getting advice from someone who has more experience in that field will be great for your photography skills.
I'm sure there are other things that I am forgetting about here.  For now, I hope that these strategies have helped you to experiment with learning a new skill or gaining knowledge that is not available at the local community college (or even your local library).  If you did something like this before and found it helpful, please let me know by leaving a comment.
I hope that you have enjoyed this article. If you did, please consider reading other posts, since I don't post all that frequently and they may not be on your favorite blog yet.  Thanks! You can follow me on Google+ and Twitter or subscribe to my blog via RSS or Email. There are also other ways to follow me if you prefer those!
Update: I created a new page regarding this entire issue here .  You might find it interesting.

Anyway, I hope that some of these ideas were helpful to you. Learning a new skill is about much more than just learning the skills themselves; it's also about making sure that you are not wasting your time and money as well as helping yourself out by bringing in friends and forming support groups. Part of learning a new skill is learning how to learn itself, so make sure that your process is efficient and won't cost you too much money.

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