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The Beginner’s Challenge

| | Personal Leadership

A true sign of mastery is realizing just how much you don’t know.   Since masters and beginners share “not knowing” in common, why is “not knowing” so freeing for us when we have achieved mastery, and so darn uncomfortable when we are beginners?

Amber Naslund got me thinking about this in her post titled The Restless Novice.

Here are a few of the things I came up with when I considered her question: what gets in the way of being a beginner?

  • We like to look good, even if it is at the expense of our own progress.
  • When we are a beginner we can’t control how we appear to others and we are likely to look clumsy or silly in the process.
  • We don’t like to struggle.  Even if we find learning exciting when we are in the midst of it, our perception, fueled by fear, doubt or worry, is often that it will be hard for us.
  • We are impatient.  Learning takes time, especially when you are brand new to something and time is a scarce.
  • In our culture people are revered for their knowledge and expertise.  Being the “one who knows” is rewarded and not knowing often makes you “look bad” (or at least provokes the fear that you look bad which feels just as real).
  • Our education system rewards the “knowing” part of learning, but does a poor job of rewarding and appreciating the learning process.

Sadly my 10 year old has started to come home with her report card very proud of her grades, but completely disconnected from any sense of the joy of learning or what she learned.   In fact she now sees learning as “work”.

As a parent it is really hard to help her get past that context and connect with the joy and exhilaration of learning.  I can honestly say I believe it is the system and not the teachers.  She has had some great teachers and many of them have been struggling right along with us in this regard.   Nonetheless it is frustrating to see the resistance to being a beginner already brewing.

Observing this in action reminds me that our culture works against all of us in this regard whether we are present to it or not.

We are all beginners at something. And we all face resistance to it at some point or another, albeit some more than others.  I don’t think that ever completely goes away for any one of us.

I still resist getting started with learning something new at times.  Mostly it is the times when I lose focus on why I am learning something or when I get overwhelmed by all I have yet to learn that I need to know.

However, I am absolutely certain of one thing.  If I want to continue to be successful in whatever I do I have to get over it.  And I have to keep getting over whatever is in my way at the moment of having to learn something new.   I must be willing to go through the struggles inherent in starting from the beginning.

No one can succeed in today’s world without continuing to learn despite the pressure to appear as though we “know”.

This is best illustrated in a quote by Eric Hoffer:

“In times of great change it is the learners who will inherit the earth, while the knowers will be beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”

So what about you?

What gets in your way of being a beginner?

And what strategies have worked for you when you are faced with your own resistance to learning something new?

P.S. I am offering a FREE 1 hour Teleseminar called The Art of Accountability on September 23, 2010.  Click Here to learn more.

My next webinar series begins on October 11, 2010.  You can find out more by going to http://www.theartofaccountability.com

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