If We Are Not Learning…Then Maybe We Are Not Evolving

This weekend I had one of those moments when an idea gets in your head and you just can’t let it go. I was listening to NPR on Monday night as I was driving to pick-up dinner for the family. It was an episode of All Things Considered, specifically a segment about violist, Joshua Bell. Robert Siegel was interviewing Joshua Bell and he played a piece that Bell performed in 1989. He asked Bell what he thought about his performance more than 20 years after playing the piece. Below is a snippet of the interview…

SIEGEL: The relationship between you, the artist, and the piece of music that you’ve performed over decades, is it something constant and steady, or are there moments of evolution when you decide after some performance, I’m going to do this differently now, I mean, I’m going to rethink that particular movement? Or does it just change very naturally without being so self-conscious about it?
BELL: Well, a lot of what happens in – and as a – we’re basically evolving and learning. You’re a constant student as a musician. So – and a lot of that, it just evolves naturally. But there are also moments where the light bulb goes off in your head and quantum jumps in understanding that those happen as well, and those are wonderful moments. You know, those often come after times where you feel a little bit stagnant or frustrated.

But I believe in things happening naturally. I think if you try to do something artificially or try to change your style or – very self-consciously, I think it won’t be honest.

SIEGEL: But even trying that hard, it’ll change because you’re growing as an artist.

BELL: It does change. We all – I mean, we change anyway. I mean, as human beings, we change. We – the more experience we have in life, it all informs and is reflected in everything we do artistically.

What got me thinking was Bell’s notion that we are constantly evolving and learning. We are “constant students” he says. Interesting enough as software engineers it’s rare that continue our education. The best programmers are learning new patterns, languages and skills. The vast majority of software engineers and software practitioners fail to continue their education, whether in a formal or informal manner.

When I got 2 or 3 months without learning something new, I feel stale. I hate that feeling. Lately I’ve been teaching myself Ruby and re-learning MySQL. I’ve been using the MCPS library and their online access to the O’Reilly catalog as my main resource. I don’t necessarily need a class or a workshop, just a little motivation.

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