A friend shared with me a story of something that took them 2.5 hours to do. This occurred in a group setting with others present where he was an active participant while others watched. What he was asked to do was challenging for him to complete. Up to the task, he did complete it.
Reviewing his performance led him to this realization. While it was fun to be an active participant, he doubted that he could have been an observer for 2.5 hours. He had been an observer before in this same setting. The experiences of being a participant versus being an observer were very different. His experience as a participant was vibrant. Full of nuance and vivid description. Not so, when he was an observer.
This led me to reflect on immersion. Being an active participant vs. being an observer. “Driving by” something vs. diving head first into the arena.
From here my journey took me to how do we learn to cook? Dance? Write? Speak in a different language with some fluency? How best can we learn a new skill? Topic? Where do we discover improvements? New ways to do something? Learn to play an instrument? Collaborate effectively with others? Structure a new project? Overcome our fear in trying something new? Live a healthier lifestyle? Juggle competing priorities?
Yes, you can read about any of these things. But little skill will be developed. You can talk to others, living vicariously through their stories giving you an overview but never substance. Surfing the web may help you become interesting but never proficient.
Immersion is the only tool where real skills and proficiency develop. Working your way through a personal or professional crisis. Visiting a foreign country to learn the language. Building a new porch yourself instead of hiring others. Being on the job for more than a year before you feel you are good at something. Cooking, over and over, until your meals make others’ mouth water. Operating the machine or working on the production line that you are asked to manage. Dancing, every chance you get, until your shyness disappears and your steps become more fluid. Agreeing to be the chairman of an event for the first time. And then planning/working it through to completion.
Practice, repitition and trial are cornerstones of immersion. Leaving no regrets while being uncertain of the outcome. For only in immersion, will you find nuance and context. The world will always look different from inside the arena. Experiencing the struggle together with the highs and lows changes us in unexpected ways during this journey.
It’s the only place where with increased skills, we can find flow in our day making time disappear before our eyes. Where an appreciaton can be gained on what is truly difficult no matter what proficiency you attain. Using immersion as a continuous feedback loop using what has or has not been successful to give us an idea how proficient we have become in using new skills.
Immersion is never our first choice. Because it takes time. For immersion never yields immediate results. Making our progress less evident along the way. Immersion does not guarantee success but does guarantee deeper learning. Making it a great way to build our lives, around things we have either an interest or a need, on a foundation of stronger skills, acquired stamina, and deeper reflection on who we are and helping us see where now we would like to go.