How I think about learning new skills as an adult, everything from sports to improv to cooking to art:

Curve of increasing skill, novice to excited to plateau to expert

Of course, there are lots of things for which it’s really worthwhile to learn amateur-level skill and literacy; you don’t have to be an expert for it to be worthwhile.

The source for this observation is a flyer for intermediate salsa students that a friend showed me, and also this wonderful Ira Glass quote (thanks for the link, Bill Baxter):

Here’s the key part, in case you don’t want to watch the full video:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions.”

In reality, the curve might be more like this:

Sigmoid curve of increasing skill, novice to excited to plateau to expert

Of course, this omits many important factors, like the role of mentors, new jobs and sources of constraints and goals, etc.