Classes are the solution to most problems, existential and logistical. “But anything I need to learn, I can learn on the internet,” the less enlightened might argue. Yeah, yeah, it’s true, sort of—the internet is indeed a treasure trove of YouTube knowledge, MOOCs are the future, and soon we will all live in pods. The same mindset that leads people to the internet to learn a skill is the one that keeps us indoors, hibernating, and overly self-indulgent. Do not let technological convenience fully dictate your life, though! Take a class.
Sure, signing up to take a class at an older age can feel like something catered towards bougie, corny, friendless people, kept house-husbands, and chipper retirees. Is there not something embarrassing about a bunch of adults sitting around doing something—earnestly!—at a non-professional level?
That’s where you’ve been led astray. Yes, taking classes as an adult may be a hurdle—expressing desire and extending sincere effort in public is inherently kind of distasteful when you’re reminding yourself that you’re a Grown Up. Yes, some people (you? me?) are lame, chipper, or old. But it is precisely this unsightly emotion that gives taking a class power. Not only will a class help you hone your underwhelming knife skills; it can help you overcome the crushing malaise that is your life.
If your goal is the concrete acquisition of knowledge, well, then, you’re in luck. Classes—which we will here define as instruction-based experiences that gather in real space and time—happen to be an excellent way to learn things, especially if you are motivated exclusively by an intense desire for the approval of others. Adulthood is an ideal time for learning all the things you wish you’d taken advantage of learning earlier, in large part because it is the only time you have left before death.
Here’s the key advantage: as an adult you are also more disciplined now, and less distracted by more pressing matters, such as puberty. You are motivated in a new way, by new factors. For example, a coding class might suddenly seem like a worthy allocation of resources, not only because it is objectively interesting, but perhaps also because it will make you better at your coding-related job. (It is possible your job agrees, and will even pay for it—check their policies.) A cooking class is appealing because you are now permanently responsible for feeding yourself, and sometimes others. I have been eyeing a pottery class near my apartment for several months because I think I would find it soothing, like therapy, but cheaper, with more mud and less talking. Also, I really value ceramic bowls.
Still, I might radically suggest that Learning New Skills is not, in fact, the primary benefit of taking a class.
Classes are inherently social in nature—you have to interact with a teacher, and probably other students—which makes them great places for meeting likeminded people. As we know, making friends is notoriously difficult in adulthood. Will you make friends in your class? Potentially! As someone who has taken many classes, I have made two close friends from classmates, and also met a bunch of people I had drinks with once. On the one hand, that is a terrible ratio. On the other hand, how many new close friends do you need, really? Regardless, you’ll see some people on a regular basis and wear each other down and surrender to the inevitable. In this way, it is like joining a coed kickball league, except that it is year-round, and also you do not have to play kickball.
And yet the rare, pure, singular beauty of committing to taking a class of some kind is not what it actually is, but what it represents: classes are beacons of possibility in the dull fog of life. Classes are a reminder that your life could be different than it is. You are not trapped! Classes hold promise. You could ditch it all and become a pastry chef, or a banjo player, or a semi-fluent speaker of Intermediate Italian. It is reassuring, I think, to be reminded of this even if you are deeply happy with every aspect of your life and have no known pastry ambitions. The sense of possibility is what matters. It is a salve for the claustrophobia that is every day life.
In general, classes are not free, and life is expensive, and thus, it is difficult to justify spending money on them. (Say, for example, $570 on ten weeks of introductory French, especially if you are neither anticipating a Parisian move nor affianced to a French-speaking individual.)
Instead, let’s lay out the possible costs and benefits to this hypothetical class-taking, should you happen to have some semi-disposable dollars floating around right now.
- Your money
- Your time
- The class could be bad
- Will you ever really be fluent in French, though?
- You could meet potential friends and lovers
- Learning French
- A break from the drudgery of your every day life
- Possible professional benefits (?)
- You could theoretically become a more creative and interesting person
- What else are you doing with your time, really?
A hypothetical case study: Let us say you are taking a woodworking class, because you are rugged, but in a sensitive sort of way, and you appreciate the lost art of craftsmanship. Let us say this class is a whopping $450 dollars (materials included), and meets four times, for four hours each time. If you break it down, this comes out to $28.13 per hour. (Which is still so much money!)
But if you happen to have $450 dollars and mid-century dreams, I might suggest that table-making is an excellent way to spend your money. You will learn a satisfying and concrete new skill while also having pleasant conversations with people that are not your roommates. You will have a experience, and if we have learned anything from pop psychology, it is that experiences are more valuable than things. Also, you’ll get a sweet table out of the deal. Is it an absurdly expensive table? Why, yes it is! But it is a table to be passed down for generations, a table that will someday work its way down to your grandchild’s college dorm room.
If you are taking a cooking class, consider that the cost of learning the skill of cooking will also weigh out the expense of dining out or ordering in (which you do when you are bored of the food that you already know how to cook). It will perhaps benefit your health, livelihood, and general sense of self! You get the idea here—every new skill learned has a cost-benefit analysis of its own.
There are two basic types of classes: there are classes that are somehow related to your life, career, or professional development, and there are classes that have no concrete application of any kind. The merits of the former are obvious—you will learn a useful thing, while also meeting people at least profess to share your interests. It is a practical investment, really.
But do not be mired in reality, I say! It is a narrow view of the world. The second option is to take a class that is not designed to enhance your actual life, but to help you escape from it. This is bolder and riskier, but also the more interesting choice. Do you even like woodworking? Are you interested in the raw mechanics of making tables? Who knows! There is no better way to experiment with roads not taken and/or realize your adolescent improv comedy dreams than to take a class about it.
Classes are everywhere: colleges, arts organizations, community institutions, cultural centers, and sometimes stores. I spent many happy childhood hours at Sweep & Sew, a friendly little outlet that sold vacuum cleaners and also sewing machines. Now I am a veritable font of wisdom about seam allowances.
- Duration: One-day workshops are a great way to test the waters for cheap, but if you are looking to develop any depth of knowledge and/or make potentially meaningful socio-romantic connections, you need a class that meets more than once (see also: the familiarity principle). Four times, or six times, or eight times. A semester, even, if you are feeling committal.
- Intensity (related to, but not synonymous with, duration): Are you looking for a Serious Class, or a breezy, casual fun sort of class, perhaps accompanied by alcohol? How do you feel about working on your class outside of official class time? What are the teacher’s credentials, and do you care?
- Demographics (related to, but still not synonymous with, intensity): Are you looking to hang with hobbyists or bask in the expertise of old pros? Are you cool with being the only person under 70? (Pros and cons!)
It is always possible that you will walk in the door of your ceramics class and immediately discover that your secret gift for pottery has just been lying dormant all these years, fully formed, just waiting to be unleashed upon the world. Soon, you will be forced to quit your dumb job, because who are you to deprive the people of what they want (which is your brilliant pottery). I know, this is also my fantasy. I feel strongly that I am secretly great at something, which I will soon discover, probably in a classroom setting. (Never discount a good classroom setting.)
However, the beauty of classes is that it is okay to stay profoundly mediocre forever. You are under no obligation to be good at your class, now or ever, because you are literally paying for the privilege of being there. This is rare, in adult life; I have found people so often expect competence. Assuming you are not taking the class because you are planning to become financially dependent on your newfound skill in the very immediate future, it is more than fine to galumph along at your own pace until the end of your session, or your natural life.
So go forth and conquer. The stakes have never been lower. This is your moment. Become the mediocre potter of your wildest dreams.
Rachel Sugar is a freelance writer in Brooklyn. She tweets at @rtsugar.