A few years ago, I gifted myself a John C. Maxwell audiobook called “Good Leaders Ask Great Questions.” It was a revelation and a pivotal moment in my education as an aspiring leader. I realized that I have not been asking these great questions. I tended to speak up first in social conversations. I did not welcome perspectives that contradicted mine. I became isolated in my thinking. I was behaving like I knew everything.
Then I experienced failure and had to start from scratch. That is when I picked up that book. I needed a new purpose. I needed answers.
Suddenly, I was a beginner again, and it was not as bad as I initially feared. In fact, I enjoyed being the dumbest person in the room most of the time, that after surviving my nadir, I have decided to turn the mindset into a practice. This involves an attempt to do new and extraordinary things on a daily basis.
Try something new and difficult
As a proud xennial (a person who was born between 1977 and 1983), I have gone through the rapid evolution of telecommunications, from pagers to smartphones, to faxes and screenshots. One of the benefits of living in this internet age for me is the widespread availability of online courses via Coursera or LinkedIn Learning. Math is my Achilles’ heel, so when there are courses like “Problem Solving with Excel” or “Data-Driven Decision Making” at my fingertips, all is well in the world.
Something new and difficult in the culinary field can be seriously fun. I recommend trying a hot new Morrocan dish or something by Julia Child (as immortalized in the movie Julie and Julia) by preparing everything yourself (and maybe surprising a special someone).
“Every master was once a disaster.” – T. Harv Eker
Learn a bizarre skill
I must admit I have yet to find time for this, as it requires doing something uncommon. I do not mean anything that involves swallowing 5 arthropods in under a minute. I mean rare undertakings that most people overlook. Some suggestions include learning an Asian language, playing the clarinet, or taking a capoeira class. It will depend on your inclinations and level of commitment because frankly, a wind instrument is quite an investment.
Practice, practice, practice
I play classical piano, and the Hanon finger dexterity drills, scales, and arpeggios are the banes of my existence. They are so frustrating, and each cycle makes you feel dumber than when you started. But without practice, there is no performance. Every musician MUST go through it, each and every day. The audience only witnesses the finished product, not the long, laborious rehearsals behind a flawlessly performed Beethoven concerto.
A practicing beginner cultivates strength, amidst the frustrations and the challenging hours. Only through experience will this feel relevant. If you have not devoted many hours perfecting a piece, sorting out a mechanical flaw, or figuring out a formula, try it. It’s humbling.
Strive for quick wins
This tip has many applications, but the best metaphor I can think of are the low hanging fruits in learning a new sport. A challenging yoga asana, say a forward bend, takes years of back-breaking practice to perfectly execute. But only through daily practice can this be achieved. If every day you feel like your hands are getting closer to your toes, then you have won.
This was the hardest for me to learn because I was born a talker. What made it easier is being more discriminating about my project choices, and going to meetings where the attendees are much older and wiser than I am. After I hear and process all of their inputs, it becomes much easier for me to contribute value to the dialogue, especially when asked.
To imbibe a beginner’s mind, there is nothing more delightful than discovering new civilizations, getting lost, and finding your way. Travel, like reading, is the gift that keeps on giving. We all become a bit more well-rounded after every escape, empowering us with the inspiration to leave this planet better than when we found it. I highly encourage that you travel to a foreign destination alone at least once, if you have not done that yet.
If frenetic schedules keep us from traveling, trying a new cuisine or that newly-opened restaurant across the street will have to do.
Do something you fear every day
As a relatively new entrepreneur, it still takes a while for me to get over rejection, so to turn that fear into an asset, I try to practice it every day. I have contacts who, by the mere sight of their email addresses, make me weak in the knees. Then I remember the purpose of my outreach – I am about to share something of value. Would I not want to hear good news if I were on the receiving end? I send that email anyway because no one has ever died from unread mail.
The task that hinders your task is your task. – Sanford Meisner
Ask for feedback
A true beginner does not stay a beginner for long. She understands that only through constructive commentary will slow but lasting improvements manifest. This is why we hear a lot about mentorship programs lately. If done well, it can help shorten the learning curve. They work best when the feedback mechanism is a two-way street.
Having a beginner’s mind is a practice that should be exercised daily, much like yoga or meditation. It comes from a willingness to embrace the unknown, to learn, and to get better. When we are trying something new, we are excited. And when we are excited about things, we are happier.
A beginner’s mindset should not serve as an excuse to be mediocre, but rather as an opportunity to try many new things. The more experiences we have, the more meaningful our lives will be. In the process, we discover what we are truly passionate about, and can most likely excel at. We find our true calling through trial and error.
So begin, today, whatever it is you have been wanting to start. And if you have more tips to add, please post a comment below.