Growing up I was always considered the family scholar because I could be readily counted on to provide some sort of quip or connection to nearly any topic. The flip side of this, though, was that like many autodidacts, my depth of my knowledge was limited to my select areas of personal interest. History? Religion? Judaism? Genealogy? Check. At one point I even used a Scottish craft magazine to memorize tartans and triumphantly called them out when we would drive past them in the car (my time likely would have been better spent studying subjects I was actually tested on in school, but that's why hobbies are hobbies).
The downside of this, however, was that as I got older, I got progressively more uncomfortable admitting when something was beyond my grasp, or simply not very familiar. With my family I would usually admit it, sometimes pseudo-proudly ("What do you mean you don't know how many ounces are in a cup?"), but with people I didn't know very well, I would usually just pretend. Even now, my usual fall-back when someone makes some sort of art or literary reference I don't know is not to say, "Never heard of it," but rather, "I think I've heard of that somewhere..."
This wouldn't be such a big deal except that there are significant life skills that I wish I had acquired much earlier and am now struggling to catch up on. For instance, driving a car. Growing up in a city with good public transportation (and not much sprawl), driving seemed entirely unnecessary, and since it also seemed a little dangerous, was something I decided to avoid until I absolutely had to learn it. Hence me going many years without even getting my license, much less regularly practicing with a car. With my new job I will be commuting around 40 miles a day on the highway, so the past month has been devoted to practicing the route with whoever will put up with me, usually Mama Yid. Usually it goes fine but when things foul up, my first reaction, after fear and anger, is shame. It's humiliating that this is so hard and that it's taken me so long to get to it. It's not made any easier by the fact that Abbot Yid has very little understanding about why this is so challenging for me. Frequently his response to me saying something like, "I still haven't figured out parallel parking," or, "I'm not comfortable driving at night yet," is, "Well you're going to need to figure it out!" Yes, I got that, thanks for the help.
I think I see a similar connection to trying to learn Hebrew. Again, it's a skill that under different circumstances I would have learned much earlier, but due to various factors (including parental inertia/indifference), never happened. So now it's up to me and Mrs. Yid to make it happen. When we're on our own we're usually ok-- one of the things we've started doing regularly on Shabbat is using our Alef-Bet flashcards and are slowly working our way towards deciphering words-- but when we're at shul, it's hard to not care about what other folks might be thinking. When I go to minyan and have to flip around because I'm using a transliterated prayer book, or go up for an aliyah and botch it because it's only my fifth time saying one... it's hard. I feel like I should be able to do this, and I'm frustrated that I didn't start earlier so I could have ten years of driving practice by now, or twenty years of Hebrew practice. I'll also admit that it's been a while since I had to learn brand-new skills or struggle do to things that I wasn't already competent in. Usually my response to not being able to do something well is to stop doing it. Here, though, that's not an option-- or should I say, it's no longer an acceptable option. (Which I suppose is a bit of personality development that's been a long time coming.)
I know that in the end being frustrated or embarrassed won't get me where I want to be. Rather than focus on what didn't happen in the past, I need to use the negative feelings as increased motivation to stick with these new skills and develop them to where I want them to be.