Teach Me to Fish. Please.

The rod, the reel, or the ready-made meal

There are times you’re too rushed to get to everything scribbled on the daily checklist. Not even close. So you ask for help, and it arrives. You breathe a sigh of relief.

There are times you’re too worn out to get anything done. You ask for help. Perhaps you’re so weary you can’t even string together the words to do that. Amazingly, assistance arrives. A kind soul (or a smart kid) steps in and lends a hand.

There are times you wish you hadn’t been overrun and overwrought, pressed by impossible schedules, too fatigued to kick your brain into high gear so that you could process new information. Or even old information in a new way.

These are times you wish you’d chosen the rod and the reel over the ready-made meal. Insisted on practicing the wisdom of the Chinese proverb: “Give me a fish and I eat for a day. Teach me to fish and I eat for a lifetime.”


Of course we learn more easily when we’re young, when we aren’t stressed, when we are interested in the subject matter. But many aspects of life require that we learn strategies and explicit skills in order to survive.

No one disputes that we must learn to

  • Feed ourselves
  • Keep ourselves safe
  • Communicate
  • Earn a living
  • Deal productively with others
  • Manage money

And there is plenty more I couldn’t possibly enumerate here, not the least of which has to do with parenting, politics in the workplace, and in today’s world – the ins and outs of technology.

There’s no question that most of us are still “trainable” and willing to take on new topics with zest, even as we get a little older. I know that I am. Learn more about modern art? I’m a captive audience. About what motivates people to do what they do? I’m fascinated. The “craft” beneath various types of writing? I’m in!

Hardware, software, and then some

But CSS? PHP? I’m a writer and marketer, a full-time single parent. Must I really master configuring networks, outsmarting recalcitrant printer driver downloads? Must I learn to manage Internet security across multiple operating systems, laptops and desktops? Replace laptop batteries? Keyboards? And this isn’t just about keeping our household running, it’s about the business of writing. My business.

I love this brave new world of technology. I hate this brave new world of technology. But poke me. I’m overwhelmed.

Kids and technology

My teens text, Facebook, download, install, format, reinstall, and master a breadth of skills I skim with partial understanding. They navigate through Vista and XP and now Windows 7. They manage fine when required to maneuver on a Mac.

Over the years, my elder son has been the IT department. He’s kept everything humming – the networks and printers, the hardware and software. The technology infrastructure upon which we depend – the kids for their social networking and their schoolwork, and me, as a writer who most frequently works remotely, from a home office.

Can we even imagine our lives without the Internet? Without the connectivity that is now so much a part of the routine – in our careers, our relationships, our keeping tabs on the whereabouts of our children?

Learning – the hard way

For the past four weeks, when hack after hack on my (former) hosting provider’s site brought my technology infrastructure tumbling down, it’s been more and more clear to me that I allowed my son to give me fish, when I should have insisted that he teach me to fish.

There have been times when I’ve asked him to explain particular things, and his response has been: “It’s faster and simpler for me to just do it.” Tired and usually under time constraints, I was, to be frank, happy with that answer.

Certain skills I will never possess; my son is a born engineer (and has been dealing with hardware for years). He can take apart and fix almost anything, including a dead computer. And just has. But as for the many other things I could have and should have learned, in anticipation of depending entirely on myself?

I know now that I took the path of least resistance.

How to acquire technology skills

I need to learn more about things that don’t fundamentally interest me, but are part of my job as a parent, as a writer, and a member of many professional and personal communities.

Where do I begin?

I have some ideas. And the fact is I’ve learned a great deal through trial and error, through perusing online, and by exchanging with Internet friends and readers. I need to learn more – by walking through tutorials, risking that I may mess up when I try something on my own, and by insisting that my son be patient with me as I ask questions, and take notes on his answers.

He may be annoyed; it will be a gradual process. But in the long run, whatever technologies or life skills you depend on, “teach me to fish” is the better solution.

  • What do you wish you’d learned younger, or when you had the opportunity?
  • Do you believe men and women learn differently?
  • Do you learn easily, or is it a struggle?
  • Do you learn from your kids?
  • Do you depend upon a spouse for certain knowledge and skills?
  • What do you need to learn, that you’ve been avoiding?



  1. says

    Learning keeps wrinkling the brain (good wrinkling). Current learning or re-learning important as past learning fades (or becomes irrelevant). Some easy – some struggle. I tend to read the summary sheet of instructions and if it works – great. Rarely read all the directions (I admire those who do). Learning how to do it yourself – critical. Learning how to have talented others do it for you – critical (kids included). On one hand I want to learn to touch my toes (with legs straight), on the other I want to inspire people (I’m trying with one step at a time).
    You’re the best.
    Have fun,

  2. says

    Oh, this is so true. Husband handles all of the technology in our house – everything associated with our computers and our TV. He updates our iPods when we buy new music. Troubleshoots when the wireless doesn’t work. I wouldn’t know where to start if something happened to him.

    I’m thankful that my mom and grandma taught me some old-fashioned kitchen skills when I was young. I’m not a great cook, but I do know how to bake, make jam, and can tomatoes. So many of my friends are helpless in the kitchen.

  3. says

    I’m pretty good with basic mechanical stuff where computers are concerned, but just about anything involving HTML is beyond me (I just learned how to put things in italics and still feel very proud – see? I’m a neophyte). I like to learn new things and think I pick them up pretty quickly, but I’m not as good when things don’t feel intuitive.

    Eva’s comment made me realize that cooking and baking are things that I’m pretty good at and have completely taught myself (well, cookbooks have taught me, but I’m pretty darn good at following directions).

  4. says

    So timely that you publish this now. I’ve been thinking about how much I’ve learned the last year of blogging, tech wise. My kids too are the tech geniuses but it drives me mad when they won’t take the time to teach me to do it myself. I feel like the roles are reversed from when they were little and wanted to do it theirselves. I want the skills! I want to be able to catch my own fish.
    Not that it doesn’t scare the hell out of me…

    • BigLittleWolf says

      You’re so right, Maureen. It is like role reversal! (I’m scared to catch my own fish, too.)

  5. says

    I’m glad I caught on and found the internal motivation to learn all of those things–from cooking to computers which I have been messing with since elementary school. Computers are more essential today then they were x years ago. Can’t do anything without it–hybrid classes etc. And yes, I think men and women learn differently and I’m generally a fast learner.

  6. says

    Learning is lifelong; keeps the ol’ brain synapses from getting weak, tired, and dull.
    My kid has taught be how to be a mom, and a better person.
    I have a lot more to learn, happily, willingly, but you bet I wish I knew then what I know know. But, I wouldn’t even have listened to myself! So it goes …

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Kat! Too funny – and you’re so right! When we’re young, we don’t want to listen to anyone. I consider myself fortunate that my kids still listen and learn from what I say… um, occasionally…

  7. says

    I’ve been lucky enough to be in the web world for ever. One of the grandma’s you could say and was writing HTML in 1994 if you can believe it. That said, I do stumble when it comes time to play my music over my network and the thought of connecting my TV to the Internet has me hugging my big lug of an analog. Perhaps I will teach my kids to fish…
    I did teach my son to do laundry, which is working out great, though I have lost two leather belts that he didn’t know couldn’t be washed. What’s that called? Catching guppies?

  8. says

    I think the learning I wish I’d done earlier might have been social learning, but on the other hand it’s really hard to imagine who I would be if I didn’t develop the way I did. Maybe I’ll switch and say that it might have been cool to have learned more about money earlier—maybe i wouldn’t have spent all my savings on my thesis film and instead it could have been left to grow into a nifty retirement instead :)

    In any event, it’s good to be challenged in the ways you challenge us, good to think about what new tricks some of us old dogs might like to learn (there just seems to be such limited time for all the interesting things that might tempt us).

  9. says

    I am so guilty of this, BLW, especially with the overall computer arrangement in our house, which my husband has on a network with multiple computer (how many do we need for four people? We have six.)

    But since he spends so much time at our store and I spend so much time here dealing with a computer that causes me problems I finally learned “how to fish” as you say. I can unplug the router and another do-hicky. I don’t know exactly why I’m doing what I’m doing but it works every time.

  10. says

    I am the tech person in our home and often get annoyed trying to explain something to my husband … so I do it for him. That’s definitely doing him a disservice.

    However, I have curbed my son’s use of technology. I feel good about it because he loves to create stories and art as well as play outside and ride his bike. But I feel badly about it, too, because he will be at a distinct disadvantage compared to his peers.

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