Appreciating Beginner Struggles: Finding Joy In Sucking At Something New

“I love being a beginner. It can be a terrible feeling because you’re ashamed of everything you do, but it’s so exciting at the same time.”

Barbara Sher

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When was the last time you tried anything for the first time? Starting from scratch in something you have no background in?

Life is exciting when you see progress on a journey you’re passionate about. Starting as a beginner allows you to experience many milestones on the way to mastery but mastery isn’t the end result that all are seeking.

Anything can be started at any point in your life. In his little known book, “Painting As A Pastime”, Winston Churchill describes his joy upon taking up painting at 40 years old . Churchill begin painting as a way of dealing with his bouts of depression as a result of a demotion that led to him resigning from his government post. In 1915 Churchill planned a naval campaign that led to heavy losses. Painting was to become a steady companion to Churchill throughout his life. Churchill produced over 500 painting during his life all after the age of 40.

Painting by Winston Churchill

I’m not a sports fan but have respect for Michael Jordan, who, during the peak of his career as the most preeminent basketball player, left the NBA to pursue baseball as a rookie in the minor leagues. People speculate as to the reasons why Jordan temporarily left basketball but I believe people who play at the elite level need to challenge themselves and like felt he had temporarily plateaued.

As an adult we can’t help but compare our abilities and achievements to those who are further along than us. Seeing the abilities of others should serve as a north star of inspiration, rather than let it discourage us. So what if you have two left feet? So what if you don’t yet know how to mix colours or know the difference between notes in a scale? If a word is masculine or feminine? Enjoyment precedes proficiency. As the cliche goes “The master has failed more times than the beginner has tried.” Stay the course and over a long enough horizon you will see progress.

Setting end result goals are like mirages in a desert. Just as we reach our destination, our desires or goals are replaced by newer shinier ones. Dopamine (the neurochemical involved in anticipation of a reward) has us chasing the next object (see Daniel Lieberman’s excellent book, The Molecule of More).

How To Stay Motivated As A Beginner

  • Join a community related to your activity
  • Celebrate the small wins along your journey.
  • Share your joy with others. Don’t be discouraged if they don’t return that joy.
  • Suspend your fear of judgement.
  • Time block periods to practice your skill
  • Understand you may have setbacks or temporarily fall off the wagon. Just begin again.

Interesting people have an eclectic range of skills, experiences and hobbies. You increase serendipity and allow more opportunity for other like-minded people to enter into your life. New skills, friendships and experiences are all part of a life well lived.