I have yet to sleep tonight, and technically it is no longer “tonight.” It’s nearly 1 a.m. on March 25, what would have been my father’s 85th birthday. I did not realize this until I sat down at the kitchen table with a bowl of oatmeal and opened up my journal to scribble a few lines.
My mind was on other matters as I lay in bed, staring into darkness, wondering if the pain medication I am on for my back was keeping me mentally wired even while physically exhausted. I am supposed to get up in less than five hours now to attend a leadership breakfast at Vanderbilt. I would say the chances of my attendance are growing dimmer with each keystroke.
I’m perusing through some blog ideas I’ve jotted down in my journal across the past several days, and one of them is mostly what I want to write about at this moment. The popular books of creative strategist Michael Gelb have been particularly inspiring to me this month. I tore through one of his works, How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci, in a couple of days and drew several ideas and action steps. Gelb’s book also has numerous exercises to consider for stimulating critical thinking and gaining deeper perspective.
One of the exercises is the simple task of brainstorming the answers to the question, “What would I learn if I could learn anything?” That is an explosive topic for me, since I’m naturally a lifelong learner and would simply keep earning graduate degrees if I had the time and money—or at least take a class or two every semester on a subject area that intrigues me. But I found that rather than composing an exhaustive list, my mind gravitated toward a handful of quality, learning endeavors. Here they are:
The greatest ideas from the greatest minds across history. This is a learning quest I started quite some time ago and have kicked up a notch as of late. I will never finish this labor of intellectual love, and that’s what makes it so lovable.
How to speak French. I have yet to visit any country in Europe, a gap I plan to address before long. Paris has long enticed me more than any other venue, giving its history of writers and artists and the general mystique surrounding the City of Lights. I love the sounds and rhythms of the French language, and would enjoy being somewhat conversant when I finally visit the cafes, restaurants and museums of the spaces where Hemingway worked on The Sun Also Rises.
How to speak Italian. A close runner-up to French, just as visiting Rome and other Italian cities is a close second to visiting France. Italian, of course, is my heritage, but I would be going as much for that as for the food and wine. I have numerous cousins in Sicily whom I have never met, and it would be a pleasure to be able to chit-chat with them even though eating is the true international language.
Ballroom dancing. My wife Jenna and I have long talked of taking lessons, but the time has never seemed to be right. I greatly admire the elegance and grace of those with precision and skill on the dance floor. Good dancing is as romantic to me as good art and deep conversation. It is a vibrant expression of the human spirit.
Practiced wine differentiation. I admit that I am a novice on vino. I know I enjoy Merlot, but do not necessarily understand why the taste appeals to be more than other flavors. I know more about wine’s positive health impacts than I do about what distinguishes one year’s bottle from another. That same Michael Gelb has a brand new book out on creativity and wine, called Wine Drinking for Inspired Thinking, and it apparently has sections for illuminating us wine illiterates. I will be adding this volume to my collection soon enough, and hopefully attending some tastings on a regular basis.
How to market and sell every book I write. I saved this one for the end, but I’m sure it has the greatest sense of urgency to me. No more to be said here if you’ve come to know me.
So I’d love to hear back from whoever is gracious enough to have read all of this. What would you learn if you could learn anything at all, and time, money or other obligations were of no hindrance?