You’re not too old for this stuff…

When I decided to learn Spanish I was around 30 years old I recon and signed up for a summer course in Barcelona and spend couple weeks of holidays there. I was a total beginner and when I arrived to school they told me they do not have a group for me, as I am the only ‘level zero’ person that signed up so either I upgrade myself for private classes or join a higher level, intermediate group. I was like… upgrade sounds expensive…

My first boss in P&G used to tell me ‘the regular people drink honey from a cup, the tough ones chew the bees.’

That very uplifting coaching advice stayed with me for years, therefore also this time ‘bee chewing’ I chose.

That is how I found myself stuck in a room with 10-years younger students and stumbled and struggled through every class, trying to catch up with the years of training of others in just few days. Obviously, I was the worst student on the course and both the teacher and the fellow classmates thought I am a total moron. What can one do in such situation if not to make even more fun of themselves. So, I kind of rolled with it and turned into a local dummy asking all the embarrassing questions with little fear. Everyone treated me like an idiot anyway, but at the end I paid for the course to learn, so what the hell. I learnt.

Mind you, I was already an experienced professional within my field sitting in the classroom with kids in their 20s, who were still in universities and whose parents paid for their Spanish holidays. They clearly took an absolute pleasure of feeling better from the ‘old’ (in their eyes, I knew I am as young as I will ever be ;)) lady, who was, from their perspective, a life failure, since she could not speak the foreign language as well as they did. I brushed it off every time, cause well, it was true, but it was also such a small part of my life that I did not bother to fight it.

Then one day, close to the end of my holiday, my office woke up looking very much forward to having me back and I started receiving a lot of calls telling me how much they miss me and what kinds of meetings they want to scheduled once I am again in Geneva. I had to step out of the class couple of times and finally the teacher got irritated and asked me what up. I apologized and explained it is work. Then they asked me what I do for life. It was actually first time someone bothered to enquire about it. When with my simple Spanish I told them I am working in the global team of this big multinational company in Switzerland HQ and what is the scope of my job, people looked at me as if I was making it all up. This dummy who could hardly speak the language? Then the follow up questions started. Where did I study. When did I start working. How did I get this job. How did I develop my career. Suddenly the way they looked at me changed and the roles have turned. They were the kids that did not figure out what to do with their life and I was the adult who was coaching them.

Starting something new is hard independent of the age, but it turns to be more difficult with time. Why?

Because it undermines your feeling of self-worth.

When you are a toddler no one has expectations (hopefully) that you will crack everything the first time. When you learn to walk and you fall they just cheer and tell you to get up and try again. That it’s alright. Later in life the expectations are increasing and failure is less and less tolerated or it starts having consequences. Not passing and exam at school. Missing deadline at work. Being rejected by a group or a individual you care about. Therefore, slowly we learn how risky it is to get out there and try something new. And when we finally build our life: our career and our social status, the stakes of pivoting into a new field are just too high. Even if it is only about learning something new, like playing an instrument, or starting a new sport, many people struggle with it, as it makes them vulnerable.

But you know what?

It also keeps you grounded. It keeps you humble. It shows you that there are people with different skill set than yours and they are equally worthy respect. 

It shows you that the world is bigger than your small, safe ecosystem.

There are things to discover and various life paths that people are taking.

Personally, I love that feeling.

It makes me look at myself as if I was this toddler again stumbling through every step, allowed to ask dummy questions, fail and get up.

For me the recipe on how not to get demotivated at anything new has been always the same: do not waste time on comparing yourself to others. Everyone is on their own path. Set up your own goals. And roll with it.

I wrote a book. Getting it published (in May!!! yay!). Do you think my goal it is now to become next J.R.R. Tolkien and change the landscape of literature?

Ha.

NO.

If I sell 100 pieces I will be happy (that I have a 100 friends and family members who are ready to spend 10 bucks to make me feel good).

But it’s my book. My path. My story.

Repeat after me.

You are not too old for this stuff.

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4 Comments

  1. Rodrigo E. Rebagliati January 28, 2023 at 6:22 am

    Loved it, Ula! And, regarding your book: I’m waiting for the ebook to be available so I can buy it and read it. The thing is: not only age was not an impediment, but it is precisely what “comes with the age package” which allowed you to write such book: experience, anecdotes, learnings, and wisdom. Of course, then you have your personal magic touch that makes you be you, and be able to use these things to then write the book you’ve dreamed of.
    Regarding Spanish: if you still want to learn, it’ll be my pleasure to have a phone chat and make you practice my native language 😊

    1. Ula Gudel January 30, 2023 at 4:52 am

      You are absolutely right, Rodrigo! I actually often feel with writing that the story has been waiting for me until this point and there have been experiences I had to go through to make it happen 🙂

  2. Shah February 4, 2023 at 5:20 am

    Can’t wait to buy your book and read it all..

    And I loved the story above! And boy, you ended up teaching them a foreign language 😂 the language of “experience”..

  3. Chris February 9, 2023 at 12:21 am

    Love it 🙂 I definitely do remember some of those days in Barcelona 😉 if your book is released / available in the US, you’ve got your first sold book 🙂 hope you’re well (it’s been too long…)