This past year, my oldest son began taking professional photography work. I’ve spent several years in the business and in addition to teaching him technical and artistic skills, I’ve guided him towards the best photo labs, websites for proofing and sunlit locations. Over and over he’s called me for bits of information, opinions and critique of his work.
A lot of critique. I tried to be gentle, I certainly pointed out everything he was doing right, but I felt a responsibility to teach him solid skills. I expected him to bristle– it’s no fun for a 24-year-old to take mountains of advice from his mom– but he listened, learned and improved at an incredible pace. Over and over I’ve been amazed by his humility and his wisdom. He was smart enough to recognize a chance to learn from someone truly willing to offer help (and you’d better believe I’ve started calling him for tips).
And it makes me wonder– how many times in my life did I waste an opportunity to learn because I was too proud to ask someone with more experience?
In 1977, William LeMessurier garnered international acclaim for his brilliant engineering of the Citigroup Center on Lexington Avenue. Towering over midtown Manhattan at 915 ft. (279 m) tall, it’s unique angled top and stilt styled base made it one of the most interesting and among the top ten tallest buildings in New York City.
While awards covered his walls and professional colleagues patted him on the back, an engineering student named Diana Hartley took another look at LeMessurier’s calculations and found the building had a one in sixteen chance of collapsing during a large storm.
With hurricane season approaching in the summer of 1978, construction crews worked all through the night for three months retrofitting the building with 2″ steel plates over every bolted joint.
Hurricane Ella skirted Manhattan, the retrofitting was completed and disaster was averted. But just think, what if LeMessurier was too proud to listen to a student?
I wonder how many times in my life I’ve had an opportunity to learn and wasted it because I considered myself the expert?
Years ago, a lovely woman named Vedrienne Johnson knocked on my door and introduced herself as my new Visiting Teacher. At the time, my home was filled with wild little boys and I was embarrassed to host anyone in my messy family room. Still, Vedrienne visited faithfully each month and took an interest in my family. Although I let her into my home, I never let her into my heart. I held her at a distance while desperately trying to maintain the facade that I had this mothering gig all figured out.
I’m not sure when it hit me– maybe a few years later– but I realized Vedrienne was one of God’s most courageous, faithful, lovely and wise women who could have taught me volumes. An inspired Relief Society President sent her to me when I needed her most, but I was too proud. I wasted a golden opportunity to learn from a woman who knew exactly how to help me if only I could listen.
The first time I submitted a piece to the Segullah journal, I was surprised by the long list of rewrites. I’d had many things published in magazines and newspapers, but they usually printed my work with very minor edits. “If Segullah didn’t like my piece why did they even accept it?” I wondered. But through the process of taking a piece of writing and truly making it shine, I became a much better writer. These days, I crave editing. I wish I had an editor for everything I write (especially this piece, would you mind sending me your corrections?) and I hope I’ve properly inspired you to submit something to Segullah’s Literary Journal.
Our most powerful opportunities to learn come from the Spirit. I’ve been awoken in the middle of the night with unexpected insight, heard the Spirit whisper, “Listen up!” during what I considered a boring Relief Society lesson and the other day I felt a prompting while reading the comics. I don’t always hear; I don’t always listen. I know I’ve been too proud for too long. But I want to take more time to be still, more time to ponder. I want to humble myself and learn something.
Have you missed an opportunity to learn?
Do you find it hard to take criticism?
Tell us about learning something in an unexpected way.