Being a Beginner

“Be willing to be a beginner every single morning.”

Meister Eckhart




At any given time, we are starting something new. What are you beginning? A new season of life? A new hobby? A new habit? A new eating or exercise plan? A new day? We are all beginners. In fact, each decade of our life is new and will bring new opportunities and challenges. One of the invitations a new beginning brings is the opportunity to embrace novelty, like a child discovering something new for the first time.


It’s not easy being a beginner. We have all had the experience of being new at something. Often one of the first things we realize is that we are terrible at whatever we’re trying. Skiing for the first time comes to mind. Most of us prefer being in our comfort zone. It’s easier to stay with what we know rather than open ourselves to something new. James Clear, an expert on habits writes,” Most people don’t want new information, they want validating information.” It’s more comfortable to selectively choose what we hear, believe, and follow. Most of us don’t want to look foolish. We are encouraged to believe that we should know what we’re doing. This can actually be a problem. Teachers from a variety of perspectives, from mystics to monks to psychologists, stress the value of having a beginner mindset. What can we learn from being a beginner?

For some, being a beginner can be invigorating. It can be fun to do something new, like visiting a new country. When you first arrive, it can be exciting to see and hear and smell all the new and different things. It can also feel foreign. The language, transportation system, food, currency, and more can be very different. I remember struggling to learn how to operate a washing machine while living abroad as all the instructions were in German and new to me. Often as a beginner you need to call forth a new superpower of sorts, a heightened sense of focus and observation to help you find your way.


In fact, that is one of the advantages of being a beginner. You are more focused and aware. As a beginner, you are often more curious and more open to new ideas. Once a person become familiar with things they often notice less and become more automatic in their responses.


I read once that pilot errors are not the highest in the early stages of learning how to fly but after around 800 hours of practice. The same is true for surgeons. It has been observed that surgeons learning a specific spinal surgery technique often have the most errors on the 15th try, not on the first or second. It is when the pilot starts to believe that he knows how to fly the plane that he makes an error. The key is to be skilled and aware, keeping that same sense of focus that arises when one is a beginner.

No one wants to stay a beginner. Ultimately, we want to make it down the ski slope and learn how to operate the washing machine, but as our skills improve and our knowledge grows we can hang on to that spirit of interest and alertness that comes with the novelty of being new at something. We can cultivate a beginners spirit by:


  • being curious

  • asking questions

  • having an openness to new ways of doing things

  • acting with greater intention and sharp-eyed alertness

  • connecting with new people and new ideas

  • taking risks and making mistakes

  • growing in humility as we realize how much we still have to learn


Let’s be a beginner today and see what happens.

__________________________

Reflect:

How am I a beginner?


What is one trait of a beginner that I can try to cultivate?