Part of learning and growing, I think, is getting comfortable with being a beginner. Realistically, as quickly as things change anymore, we're always a beginner at something. As soon as we think we've mastered one thing, there will be five more skills we need to learn just to keep up. If we aren't able to accept this, we'll be in big trouble.
I've been thinking about this a lot today. First I read Tom Haskin's post on how to be professionally stagnant. This line, in particular spoke to me:
"Concerted efforts must be made to maintain your own pride, confidence and comfort zone."
Yes, focusing on pride, confidence and our comfort zones leaves us unable to learn new things.
Then I saw Christy Tucker's post on blogging and perfectionism. She says:
Learning more is one of my main goals for blogging, and I don't think I can do that as effectively if I try to wait until my ideas are perfect before I post. This isn't really the forum for my most polished ideas; it should be a place for me to reflect as I'm going along, in whatever stage those thoughts are. Heck, if Will Richardson can admit that he was stuck, I figure I'm entitled to not always know quite what I want to write.
Something I struggle with, wanting to be polished in my presentation. But at what cost?
Finally, I came across a series of videos by Ira Glass of This American Life. In this one, he starts out talking about how to find great stories. But then he ends up talking about the need to fail and to abandon the inevitable "crap" that's produced in your search for something really good.
And then in this one, his excellent advice for beginners--recognize that in the beginning, there will be a huge gap between your expectations for the quality of your work and your actual ability to do it. Some people give up too soon. You have to stick with it to get past that point on your way to being really good.
So all of this floating in my brain got me thinking that for me to be a good learner, I need to be a better beginner. What would that look like, though?
- Being willing to BE a beginner is crucial.
- I need to examine my own mental models and how I approach situations and experiences.
- Related to this, I need to develop "beginner's mind." This quote says it all:"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few." - Shunryo Suzuki-Roshi
- Accept the gap between where I want to be and my current skill level and keep working past that point, rather than giving up.
- Create a large volume of work (practice, practice, practice) so that I keep creating new opportunities to make mistakes and weed out the crap. Artists know that you have to produce a lot of bad work in order to get past it to the good stuff.
- Get good at failing. Ira Glass says in the first video that if you're not failing, then you're not creating enough opportunities to get lucky and hit the jackpot on quality. This has been true in my life--back to the idea of producing bad work to get to the good.
- Be willing to fail publicly. This is the hardest one for me. I prefer to fail quietly, behind the scenes, not in front of an audience. But you don't get feedback when you always fail alone, so sometimes you have to be willing to take a risk where people can see you.
- Be willing to look foolish. Children are seldom afraid to learn new things until we teach them that they should be afraid of looking "stupid." We don't mean to, but it happens. We transmit our adult embarrassment to them and it goes from there. I have to be willing to seem incompetent.
What are other ways to be a good beginner?