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Sally Bryant looks back on learning…

You remember when you first learned to walk? God it was hard work and I’ve tended to avoid walking ever since. There were upsides to mastering this new skill, because I never learned to crawl; instead my pre-walking method of getting around was to slide around on my bottom, emitting a frequent call of ‘Toot! Toot!’

I don’t actually remember doing this but there are any number of helpful witnesses who do and they helpfully share this information - so I’m resigned to it being public knowledge, if not my finest hour.

 So walking, while tough to learn, represented a great leap forward, as it were. However it left me with a lifelong family nickname... 

It was so hard to get the walking thing all together. The standing upright without clutching something for stability, the maintaining your balance thing, the working out how to keep your momentum while not getting too far ahead of yourself and pitching face-first to the floor. I don’t have explicit memories of each bit of it but I remember it as one of the toughest things I’ve ever learned to do. And each time I see a child going through it, I get little flashbacks of the trials and frustrations I felt at the time. And I feel a deep wave of sympathy for the kid, and a grave sense of foreboding at the potential for disaster they were facing. Because I had a multitude of falls before I got my act together. It was worth it in the end, but I took some bark off.

And of course, as I’ve gone through life, I’ve had to learn all sorts of new skills as I’ve gone along, with varying degrees of success. Some have been very tough to learn, and some have been surprisingly easy; that’s all been influenced to some degree by how much I wanted to learn. If it was something I was breaking my neck to do, then chances are I stood less chance of actually breaking my neck in the process. And if it was something that I had to learn but wasn’t so keen on, then maybe it was a bit tougher, a bit more of a slog. And I probably had my teeth gritted, my jaw clenched, squinting in concentration.

The reason I’m cogitating on all of this? I’ve been in training all week, with the rest of my workmates. And I’ve found myself exhausted at the end of each day. Not just a bit tired, but really wrung-out, stuffed, knackered, exhausted. And that has surprised me a bit, and it’s made me wonder why it’s taking so much out of me. Because this is training in what we do every day, it’s a sort of refresher course in some things and a bit of new knowledge and a fair chunk of learning to work in an increasingly cooperative way within a team. But it’s been every day, and we’ve taken it very seriously and we’ve all been concentrating very hard on the process.

I’ve done jobs in the past where I was expected to attend rounds of meetings; days and days of meetings with community, with stakeholders, with service providers, and they were exhausting as well. 

There’s an element of concentration, of constant engagement with others, of being in a situation where you have to be actively listening all day. And that is pretty draining. It reminds me of my father saying years ago that a day in a Council meeting was harder work than most of the jobs on the property because you are sitting and talking all day long. And the mentally tiring jobs are somehow much more exhausting than the physically tiring.

Even writing about it is sapping me of energy.

It’s not as though it’s been a negative experience this week; it’s been interesting, informative and good for us all as individuals and as a team. We’ve had a lot of laughs and we’ve learned an enormous amount. And I’m very grateful that we’ve had the time and money invested in us, and I’m sure we’ll all see the benefits as we apply all that we’ve learned. But I’m relieved it’s over and I’ve survived more or less intact. 

It’s quite confronting, the whole training thing because when you’re being given refresher training in something you actually do, there’s a sense that maybe somewhere in the thing you do, you’re being perceived as not actually walking but more as someone who is sliding around on her bottom, making ‘Toot! Toot!’ noises.  Now there’s an uncomfortable thought.

So I’ll be having a big sleep this weekend, to try and get my feet back under me again and get a sense again of my own space, of my own stability, of my own identity. And in that way, it has reminded me a bit of learning how to walk; except it’s like learning how to walk, all over again.

I guess, at any time in your life when you think you have a handle on how everything works, if you have a sense that you have learned all there is to know about what it is you do, then you’re either deluding yourself, or you’re missing some really good new information. So we should embrace these opportunities, we should open ourselves up to learning new things and we should make an effort to bring those new skills into our everyday working life. Because otherwise the training is a waste of time and we don’t get any better at what it is we do.

But that’s all next week. This weekend, as you read these pages, I’ll be practising a skill that I’ve honed and refined to an art, I’ll be demonstrating my superiority in the execution and I’ll be pleased as punch to be able to do it.

I will be resting my now fully-trained mind and girding my loins for life as a fully re-skilled and refreshed employee. I’ll be kicking back contemplating my newly trained self, I’ll be reflecting and I’ll be considering how I can adapt my work to the skills we’ve been taught.

But mostly I’ll be sleeping. Learning to walk is hard work.

Sally Bryant

Weekender regular Sally Bryant was born with her nose in a book and if no book is available, she finds herself reading Cornflakes packets, road signs and instruction manuals for microwaves. All that information has to go somewhere...