A little while ago, I had the great pleasure of coming face-to-face with a good old pattern of mine. It came out of its hiding spot unannounced, brought to light by a few simple words I heard someone say: “allow yourself to be a beginner”. In that moment, I realised how many times I had been resisting the uncomfortable feeling that comes with doing something new. It dawned on me that while trying to resist my beginner’s status, I had regularly been demanding of myself excellence in domains I had no prior experience in, indulging in stress and overwhelm along the way. Sounds familiar?
“Allow yourself to be a beginner. No one starts off being excellent”Wendy Flynn
You are bound to be a beginner time and time again in your life: changing jobs, changing careers, moving to a new city or country, starting a relationship, becoming a parent, not counting the many other “firsts” that punctuate a life. Beginnings can also be found within already familiar situations: becoming a parent for the second time around or more, navigating the different phases of a long-term relationship. There are new skills to be learned there too. For each of these situations, the difference between fulfilment and frustration rests with our ability to recognise, accept and embrace our beginner’s status.
The gifts of beginnerhood and how to collect them
“The beginning is the most important part of the work.”Plato
The gifts of beginnings are powerful. Once we get to know them, we can fully embrace the deep sense of achievement that comes with progress, no matter our age, how far we’ve come or how good we think we are.
Gift #1: Authenticity
Often, beginnings make us feel vulnerable. They expose the fact that we don’t know it all, that we still have a lot to learn. They carry with them a ton of unanswered questions. For most of us, that triggers shame, embarrassment and fear. Brené Brown, in her brilliant TedTalk, “The Power of Vulnerability”, says that “vulnerability is the source of authenticity”. When we accept our beginner’s status and embrace the vulnerability that comes with it, we allow ourselves to be more of who we truly are. We connect with others deeply and meaningfully, from a place of authenticity. We practice self-compassion and we open the door for more positive emotions to flood in.
Be inspired by humble beginnings
It’s all well and good to feel inspired by the success of others but it can be even more powerful to be inspired by their beginnings. I love when successful entrepreneurs openly share about how long it really took to get their business off the ground or when they get out of the archives their very first piece of work. They might be at the top of their game now, but they don’t deny that they too were a beginner once. Soak up stories of humble beginnings, take inspiration from them. Witnessing others being real can encourage you to do the same.
Gift #2: Creativity
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”Shunryu Suzuki
In Zen Buddhism, the beginner’s mind is often described as an “empty mind”, devoid of pre-conceived ideas or judgements. When we’re not clouded by our perception of how things should be or by our memory of how they’ve always been, we’re better able to see possibilities. We open ourselves up to new ways of doing and being, new ideas. We make friends with not knowing and we realise that there is value and wisdom in the questions themselves. This type of curiosity is a fertile ground for creativity.
Embrace the “don’t know mind”
Play with the idea that there is no “right way” or “best way” to do something, only the way that suits you in the moment. You could practice by taking the viewpoint of “Yes, No, Maybe” in turn, every time you catch yourself thinking that things “should” be a certain way. In doing that, you’ll realise that your perspective is just that, a perspective. There are many other valid ones out there. Other powerful questions you can ask: “how can this work for me?”; “what can I learn from this?”. Check out this powerful meditation by author Jack Kornfield to embrace what he calls “the Don’t Know Mind”.
Gift #3: Patience
When we refuse to be a beginner, we can be tempted to throw in the towel too soon. We want everything to happen fast, we want to have it all figured out straight away. We recoil at the first sign of difficulty. Feelings I’ve had many times already on my entrepreneurial journey. Overnight success is a myth. There is work, commitment and time invested behind everything meaningful we undertake. When we accept that we’re just starting out, we’re more likely to persevere. We slow down as we understand that patience is our best ally to learn and to make progress. Just like in martial arts, we take time to master the level we’re at before moving to the next. We let things flourish and unfold at their own pace.
Shift your perspective
Whenever you’re tempted to quit too soon or when a limiting belief shows up, try to turn it on its head by using a simple three-letter word: YET. For example, instead of declaring: “I’m not good at this”, try to say: “I’m not good at this YET”. More encouraging, right? You can also try to find your own mantra and repeat it whenever you’re doubting your abilities or resisting your beginner’ status. As I’m navigating the early stages of launching my business, mine is: “It’s not a race, it’s a marathon.” If you’d like more tips on how to shift your perspective, watch my short video HERE.
Gift #4: Progress
“You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.”Zig Ziglar
We can put so much pressure on ourselves by constantly chasing perfection. But in case you didn’t get the memo, perfection is unattainable. When you accept your beginner’s status, you don’t waste time chasing perfection or dwelling on procrastination, one of its close relatives. You release the pressure, you commit to learning from your mistakes and you aim for “progress, not perfection” as Marie Forleo so rightly says.
Be realistic with your expectations
This one can be hard for the high achievers amongst us. Rather than an invitation to ditch all your ambitions and ideals, this is about recalibrating. Motherhood has been a rich learning ground for me in that respect. If, like me, you expected to have this whole motherhood gig sorted by the time you held your newborn into your arms, you’ll know what I mean. Get real with the demands you place on yourself: it’s ok not to master something you’re doing for the first time. Give it your best. It can only get better from there. And while you’re at it, tap into the power of community: surround yourself with people who are going through the same phase as you and be willing to share authentically about your experience.
Practice makes better
Neuroplasticity refers to the ability of the brain to change and evolve according to our experiences. Fascinating, right? The theory is simple: the things we do often we become stronger at. Build up your bank of “beginner experiences” and make note of the progress you make along the way. The more you practice being a beginner, the more you’ll be able to remind yourself that yes, it might feel scary to start something new, but with enough practice, you’ll get better at it. You can come out the other side smarter and stronger. How do you know this? Because you’ve done it before!
“Every act of conscious learning requires the willingness to suffer an injury to one’s self-esteem. That is why young children, before they are aware of their own self-importance, learn so easily; and why older persons, especially if vain or important, cannot learn at all.”Dr Thomas Szasz
We have the great chance as human beings to be able to learn new skills. Life presents many opportunities for us to do so. Yet we can only fully appreciate the journey if we recognise the learning opportunities that come with beginnings. In positive psychology, it is called a growth mindset and it’s been shown to boost your success in life and at work. Wanting to be at the top of your game when you’re just starting out is a recipe for frustration and disappointment.
Where and how can you allow yourself to be a beginner right now, at work or at home? What could be possible if you accepted to not have all the answers and instead lived in the questions for a while? What lessons could you learn?
Here’s to celebrating your beginnings!
If you need support along the way, please reach out. I’d love to cheer you on and help you be the most successful beginner you can be! Contact me HERE.
“You can learn new things at any time in your life if you’re willing to be a beginner. If you actually learn to like being a beginner, the whole world opens up to you.”Barbara Sher
Photo by Caroline Hernandez on Unsplash