Recently I’ve been reading In Other Words by Jhumpa Larhiri, a Pulitzer Prize winning author. After her success writing in English, she decided to start over and move to Italy to learn to write in Italian. Mastering one language inspired her to risk it all and start over again. In Other Words is her latest book, in which she reflects on that learning process.
Since I made the career switch from lawyer to programmer, it’s been really helpful to read Jhumpa’s thoughts on starting over. In one of her reflections she says,
“I’m not at the starting point. I’m in another dimension, where I have no references. No armor. Where I’ve never felt so stupid.”
In a similarly frustrated state, she described the task of editing one of her Italian essays by saying, “I find that my project is so arduous that it seems sadistic.” But, Jhumpa’s book doesn’t deliver a cliche message of struggle through the pain because “it’s all worthwhile in the end.” Rather, the struggle itself is great. She loves language so much that the day-to-day struggle of picking up a new one is actually really great! Every Italian word she tries to learn feels like a lighthearted game. Learning to think and express herself in a whole new language is a meditative and revelatory journey. For someone who loves language so much, what greater discovery could there be?
Reading this book has helped me consider how devoting countless hours to doing something that you really suck at can be rewarding. Starting from the bottom allows you more freedom to fail (shout out to Jenessa for her theme on this topic), and to develop emotional and mental strength to know when to persevere or ask for help. I try to use some of my skills from previous work to complement my learning, but not as a crutch that prevents me from learning the new stuff. I also like dwelling a bit in the vulnerability of exposing my weakness. After writing more memos and legal briefs than I care to remember in my previous career, learning to create with code is also pretty sadistic, but that makes the journey more meditative and revelatory for me.