“I like being a beginner. I like the moment where I can look at everyone and say: I have no idea how to do this, let’s figure it out. You do that with a stage performance as much as you do a character on film.”
“That inspires me, that motivates me. To always be the novice is exciting to me, to continue to learn from all the things that I have been lucky enough to do. And to be thankful for it.”
That’s a quote by Justin Timberlake. He is someone who allows himself to be a beginner, and finds it exciting to be a beginner again.
And it’s not just him. It’s a pattern you see with many talented artists, creators, and innovators.
They go through the stages of learning and mastering a craft, and become “someone”. But then they don’t stop. They don’t get comfortable. They keep learning.
To do that, they allow themselves to be a beginner again. It’s hard to learn when you see yourself as the expert. It’s easy if you are a beginner.
The magic of being a beginner
Human beings are result-oriented creatures. We achieve a positive result and we feel on top of the world.
We become really good at something and pat ourselves on the back, and feel confident because we finally “got there”.
We also tend to form an identity based on what we excel at, or what we do every single day (which naturally translates to being better than average at it).
For example, if you work as a graphic designer and also happen to do yoga twice a week, you could say you are a designer who enjoys doing yoga.
Nothing wrong with that. However, the more you identify with what you can do, the more you base your self-worth on it, the less likely you may be to try new things.
Being a beginner can be very uncomfortable. But it also frees you. It’s a liberating experience. It’s an empowering experience.
As a beginner, you can pretty much do anything you want. You are no longer conditioned by previous experience. You no longer need to “get it right”.
Being a beginner is also a gift in the sense that only beginners can be truly aware of what they are doing. This may be counterintuitive, but that’s how it works.
Perform a task a million times; you will become very good at it, and lose awareness of it. You will do the thing mostly on autopilot.
Perform a task for the first time and your mind will be totally focused on it. That is, if you actually care. That’s why it’s sometimes called “beginner’s luck”.
It’s not luck, but awareness — being involved in what you’re doing, making the conscious effort to focus all your energy on it.
How to allow yourself to be a beginner
1. Celebrate mistakes
It’s a fun exercise to train your brain not to fear mistakes anymore. We are terrified of making mistakes (I blame the school system and our own sense of self-importance in particular).
Being so afraid prevents growth, so you want to work on that. As a beginner, you will make tons of mistakes — but that’s only because mistakes are lessons. So when you do make mistakes, celebrate.
2. Fall in love
This might be the easiest way to allow yourself to be a beginner again. When you fall in love with something (be it a skill, a hobby, a craft), your sense of self disappears. You literally lose yourself in it.
This means you are no longer worried about doing it the right way. You no longer care about yourself. You are too absorbed to care. You no longer hesitate or overthink — you just do it.
3. Do it your way
Being a beginner can be intimidating. It’s even more intimidating when you force yourself to follow strict rules. So my third tip is: do it your way. When learning and discovering, be spontaneous.
Focus on, and cultivate, what you are naturally good at, what comes naturally. Don’t worry too much about copying others. Learn from others, but know that you’ll approach the thing in a slightly different way, and that’s good.
4. Ask for help
Be comfortable asking for advice, and ask questions all the time. Most people are too proud to do that; they rarely ask questions, which means they have to figure things out on their own.
Huge mistake (we’ve seen how mistakes are good, but you want to avoid this one). By asking for help, you can learn and improve ten times faster. Also, don’t expect anyone to help you out unless you ask — people can’t read your mind.
5. Ignore the ego
When you allow yourself to be a beginner, you’ll often hear a voice telling you to stay in your comfort zone, to not be so vulnerable and potentially ruin your image of yourself. That voice is not you; ignore it.
Our ego hates the idea of being a beginner again. If you are a beginner, you are no one. But in reality, you are no one all the time! Because like I said, your identity isn’t restricted to what you can or cannot do. The ego has its place, but to be a beginner, forget about it.
6. Be a child
Sixth tip: know that you can always be a child and give yourself permission to be a child. There is this generally accepted idea, or unwritten rule, where once you become an “adult” (whatever that means) you stop learning things.
And then we are told that children have brain plasticity, and learn things much faster, and all that. Which is usually true. But it should never prevent us from learning things once we turn a certain age. Be a child — it feels awesome.
7. Be realistic
To make it super easy for you to learn new things (and enjoy learning new things), set ridiculous goals. Goals that are impossible not to achieve. For example, when learning a new language, start with the goal of learning just one word, then two or three words.
I know: it sounds stupid. But even that one word is progress. It’s growth. Growth is addictive. Make it easy for yourself to be a beginner. Why do you think people are so scared to try new things? Because in their mind, they see it as too complex or time consuming.
8. Start now
Each time you have the desire to learn something new, there is a powerful energy in you. But then there is a gap between your desire, or thought, and the moment you actually take action.
The longer the gap, the less the energy. Hours, days, weeks go by, and your enthusiasm decreases to the point where you just forget and go do something else. Don’t wait! Be a beginner now. Do it now. Time is your enemy here.
Allow yourself to be a beginner: quotes
A man ceases to be a beginner in any given science and becomes a master in that science when he has learned that he is going to be a beginner all his life.Robin Collingwood
A ship is always safe at the shore — but that is not what it is built for.Albert Einstein
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.Thomas Szasz
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
Allow yourself to be a beginner. No one starts off being excellent.Wendy Flynn
The key to pursuing excellence is to embrace an organic, long-term learning process, and not to live in a shell of static, safe mediocrity. Usually, growth comes at the expense of previous comfort or safety.Joshua Waitzkin
The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.Steve Jobs
Be willing to be a beginner every single morning.Meister Eckhart
I think of myself as a beginner. Sometimes that’s the whole joy. If you could just do it, there’d be no point in doing it.Wayne Thiebaud
Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.Henry Ford
Anything worth doing well is worth doing poorly at first.Ray Congdon
In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.Shunryu Suzuki
I am still learning.Seneca