“Patience!”  That was the advice that a French pastry chef gave me when I asked him for pointers on making croissants.  I should back up.  What set of circumstances brought me to the point where I was getting cooking advice from the former personal chef to the king of Saudi Arabia?

As many of you know, I believe that one of the keys to a full, rewarding life (both before and during retirement) is to constantly be learning new things.  To stay disciplined in this area and intentional about learning new things, I do periodic “30-Day Challenges” where I will learn about something that interests me and then write about it here at the blog.  Hopefully some of you will be inspired to follow along at home each month and we’ll be able to add something fun and interesting to our “life skills resume.”

For those keeping track at home, here’s our list so far:

  • Learn all the countries of the world
  • Learn to SCUBA dive
  • Learn to make croissants with my wife

…and now, the rest of the story

Right about the time that my wife and I were buying a pastry board and watching Julia Child make croissants on YouTube, it was time to head out of town on vacation.  Each year we take a trip with three other couples and spend a week or so hanging out, laughing and having fun.  This year we went to the island of Anguilla in the British West Indies, where we could put our recent SCUBA certification to good use.

Each morning on the island started by either cooking a big breakfast at the house or visiting one of the excellent local bakeries.  It was on one of those pastry runs that my friend Kelly and I found ourselves in Geraud’s Patisserie.  Geraud is a friendly and unassuming guy.  Just talking with him you wouldn’t know that his resumé contained training at Le Cordon Bleu and a stint as the personal chef to the king of Saudi Arabia, but those things come as no surprise after sampling a croissant or pain au chocoloat.

Since my wife and I were learning to make croissants, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to ask Geraud for some pointers.  As I said earlier, his primary advice was to be patient, which made sense, given that the time between mixing the dough and putting it in the oven is usually around twenty hours (with several interludes of flattening and folding to achieve those flaky layers present in a good croissant).  He was also gracious enough to give me his croissant recipe and told me to email him if I had any questions.

Armed with his advice, the aforementioned Julie Child videos and lots of trial and error, my wife and I are trying to master the art of making a good croissant.  Here are some things I’ve learned along the way with this challenge:

Do stuff with your spouse

Chances are good that, without a job or kids competing for your time, you’ll be spending a lot more time with your spouse during retirement than you did during your working years.  With that in mind, it’s a good idea to have some things in common.  My wife loves to cook.  I’m terrible at it, but if I spend some time learning, we’ll have something new to talk about and do together.  As you think about things you might like to learn, include your spouse in the process.

Expand your horizons

As I said earlier, I’m not a chef.  I didn’t grow up cooking and I don’t really have any culinary knowledge beyond toast and omelets.  Trying something totally new can sometimes be frustrating because you’re starting from scratch, but it can also open an entirely new area to you that you didn’t know you liked.  Don’t be afraid to expand your horizons.

The more you learn and do, the more opportunity knocks

Had I not been learning to make croissants, I wouldn’t have given Geraud’s a second thought.  I would have run in, grabbed breakfast and then gone about my day.  Sometimes we miss great opportunities—a potential friendship, a solution to a problem, a fun experience—because we’re on autopilot and not really being intentional about life.  Learning new things tends to remove the blinders.

“Sometimes serendipity is just intention unmasked.”  ~Elizabeth Berg

What’s next?

When I speak to a group or do a seminar or workshop for clients, I usually use PowerPoint.  It can be a great tool to reinforce what you’re talking about, but more often than not it can get in the way of what you’re trying to communicate because the slides can be boring, overcrowded and distracting.

I recently learned about new presentation software called Prezi that is really cool.  It can help bring a presentation to life and present information in a way that people are likely to understand and remember.  Go to Prezi’s website to watch a short video and see what I’m talking about.

Since my job is all about presenting ideas, I’m going to spend the next 30 days learning how to use Prezi.  Once I have it down, I’ll put together a presentation on a retirement related topic and send it out with the next Learning Challenge update.  Follow along if you’re interested or feel free to come up with a challenge of your own.  Regardless, be intentional about learning and your life will be richer for it.

“We should remember that good fortune often happens when opportunity meets with preparation.”  ~Thomas Edison

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