May 3, 2016

Being a Beginner - I Hate The Feeling

As I was reading a book I had been sent to review, there was a phrase that jumped off the page for me and became the basis of this post. I can relate completely to the concept of fear when beginning something new. I wrote about it from a slightly different perspective just a few weeks ago. Of course, that fear is silly. No one is born good at anything, except crying. But, as we age I think we forget that basic fact and miss so many great experiences.

I have started and stopped tennis because I couldn't put the ball in the corner after three or four lessons. Golf lasted longer, but my inability to develop instant muscle memory doomed me to once-a year-duffer stage when my brother visited town from Kansas. 

Playing the guitar? I have started and stopped and started again six or seven times. At some point, my inability to play chord transitions smoothly, or tackle a song with three flats leaves me feeling stuck in beginner mode. I slowly lessen my time each week with the instrument until it retreats to a corner of the room. Not being able to match what any 20 year old kid could do during the Beatle era leaves me disappointed. I don't push through that wall, I stop. I simply cannot handle being a beginner at a new skill. Irrationally, I think others are judging me for my lack of expertise.

The fear of being a beginner probably affects most of us at some time or another. Being a parent for the first time might top the list. No one, I repeat, no one is ever really ready to be a parent. All the books and advice in the world does not diminish that feeling of being completely unprepared for the responsibility of parenthood. You learn as you go. You and the baby are beginners together.

Your first real, "adult" job is another time when fear of being exposed as a beginner can be a common response. No matter how dazzling your resume, until the work actually begins and the consequences become real do you find out what you are capable of accomplishing.

Retirement: we all start as beginners. As I have written many times before, the journey we take will not be the exact one you thought it would be. We will be a "beginner" over and over, though we may not recognize it as such. 

So, why is being a beginner as I navigate my retirement journey OK but not in other areas? I have no idea, but I wish I could apply the same mindset to both situations.

The book I'm reading focuses on artistic and creative activities. For her purposes, the fear of being a beginner keeps someone from trying to paint or draw, play an instrument or sing in a choir, sculpt or throw a pot on a wheel, write a novel or a series of poems. She urges those with this limitation to simply take the first, small step, then the next. If that creative expression is pleasing, continue. If not, shift to something else. But, don't quit before giving something a real chance, just for fear of being less than perfect.

There isn't one creative or successful person who started out knowing it all. Each one started at the very beginning, stumbling and searching for the right combination of technique and skill. Practice, followed by more practice, losing a lot, failing often, and looking for a teacher that could help get over a hurdle was the path to "instant" success. 

I know all that is true. Then, how come I allow the fear of being a beginner keep me from trying something I might find I love? 

25 comments:

  1. I am a quick learner and pick up things pretty fast. But I lack the diligence to dig deep and keep going when things get tough. All in all I am good at many things but not great at anything.

    Like you, it is the knowing that I will hit the wall pretty quickly at a certain point that does. I am trying to work past that, to force myself to stick with something and not quit because it suddenly gets that much harder.

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    1. Like you, I can be a mile wide and an inch deep in certain areas. I know how to dig deeper. The problem is doing so on a regular basis.

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  2. Normally I don't quit things that I start; I merely don't start things I don't believe I will like. Golf is a good example. Even though I loved sports all my life, and still work out and play certain ones, I never even gave golf a try. Never thought I would like it, but more importantly I knew I could not be even rudimentally good from the start, so why bother?

    There are many things that are tough to start and stick with, but we persevere. Learning to drive would be one, largely because we knew what was there at the end of the rainbow. That job we didn't like necessarily, but it may have had something redeeming, like high pay. Or sex, well, because, umm ... let's leave it that we did pick that one up and stayed with it.

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    1. PLaying the evil's advocate for a second, if you don't try something how do you know you won't like it? In my case it is more a case of thinking I will like it but don't tolerate the process to get good enough to really enjoy it.

      Now, with sex, you may have identified the ultimate "it gets better with practice" example anyone can offer.

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  3. This post made me look back at all the new, sometimes uncomfortable experiences that are part of life. It starts in kindergarten, and continues as we meet new people, begin new jobs, join organizations, take new jobs, and move from familiar communities to new ones. Along the way, we're often forced to face losses, too. Isn't it ironic that much can be learned from pain and loss? I've learned some new life lessons due to my recent illness, and tomorrow, I begin chemotherapy--another first. It's kinda like kindergarten: I have a cool tote bag that I will pack with books, pens, paper, snacks, etc., and I'm hoping to learn lots, because I really want to do well. Maybe I'll even make a new friend. Life isn't always easy, but we get to choose how we respond to it.

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    1. You will be in my thoughts tomorrow, Pam. Your attitude says you will do well and come out of this stronger and more resilient. When I wrote this post I wasn't thinking of physical or health challenges, but you are so right: they can put us in that "beginner" mindset that needs extra effort to master.

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    2. Yes, it is certainly a first when you walk in the chemo room and get an IV. ( unless you have a port). When I first went over 11 years ago, I started crying because it is overwhelming to see so many people with cancer. Now I'm a pretty seasoned chemo girl. Now I'm getting a chemotherapy shot weekly. It's quite nice to walk in and out in 10 minutes. Good luck to you, soon it'll be just part of your history.

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    3. Pam, I love your out look on this. My daughter-in-law went through chemo last year and she found a way to make it positive. She designed labels for the chemo bags that inspired her to feel love and vitality going through her veins. It inspired many of the other patients as well. She ended up starting http://www.dhremo.com/ and through a kick-starter campaign was able to fund it. Check it out. You may find it inspiring, as well. xob

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  4. Pam,I'll be thinking of you with prayers as you begin your healing journey. Yes, Bob, I agree, new starts can be fun, and I enjoy them, but like all of the above, some things, I drop after not trying for very long.. like drawing/painting.I took a class at a local college but I did not like my beginner's results and did not seem to have the patience to keep practicing.I did get better as I went along.. I may try again.

    Other activities HAVE stuck:I am a really good cook, I make nice greeting cards out of odds and ends,papers and snippets of ribbon,etc.. and rubber stamp images.. and I am a very good snorkeler.. braver than I was when I started,I'll jump into a 60 feet depth of water without a thought now.

    I have always wanted to write a WHOLE BOOK, and I have chapters of several on the hard drive.. now that's something I AM going to work more on..now that I am actually retired..

    I think our interests wax and wane.. I know I do enjoy that sense of accomplishment when I get good at something..so, with that in mind, picking just one new activity and honing it might not be so hard, now that we've thought about what is holding us back!

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    1. Interests do wax and wane (a great old expression!). I struggle with "waning" too early, before I have put in enough effort to know if I would really enjoy something. At my age I don't have to be good enough to join a band, for example, but music has been a big part of my life. I know I would like to be able to play more than Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and Bingo Was His Name.

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  5. I have been 'practicing' yoga since 1975. I have been doing the same hathayoga routine since. Sometimes I'll add in a new pose. Whenever I go for a lesson or join a yoga group, I always go in as a beginner and I always take the beginner class. That's where I belong. I'm lost in the more advanced classes and I turn off if the group is better at yoga than I am. I like beginner stage. It's comfortable. Where is it written that we must always advance and get better at anything? Why can't I play a beginner game of tennis with someone? Or checkers? Or cards? WHY?
    Same with my photography. I like the beginner stage I am in with my photos. Sure, I add in something new I have casually learned along the way. But as soon as I am with more experienced professionals, I turn off. Where is it written that I must master a new graphic design software? Buy a bigger lens? A $4000 mirrorless camera? Why can't I just stay at the place I am at already (after several years)? I enjoy my own photography. It makes me happy. Why must I become competitive? I enjoy being a beginner.
    I am also a great cook and baker. I make fantastic, good, old-fashioned meals. Why do I have to be more inventive and creative and follow the latest cooking trend? Why do I have to get better? Why can't I remain a good, beginner chef?
    Just questions with no answers.
    One of the many reasons why after 4 years I stopped being a computer geek. The OS kept changing every six months. ENOUGH!
    I like being a beginner because that's the point everything is new and wonderful and you are in awe.
    Is there anything wrong with that?

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    1. You make a very strong argument, Cindi, for being satisfied with whatever level we have achieved. If something brings us pleasure shouldn't that be enough?

      Unfortunately, for me, it usually isn't. Being a first child, a marginal perfectionist, and a curious bloke pushes me past the first stage. But, I will think about your position to see if some of that attitude would make be more content. You have given me pause.

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    2. Bob,
      My sister is constantly competing with me. It's just awful. I'm the middle child. She's the baby. I introduced her to photography and now she has super surpassed me by enrolling in a university specializing in graphic photography (Her yearly tuition is in the thousands) She has taken every course, mastered every program, bought super expensive equipment and has won several first place awards. She even has some of her work hanging in a local art museum/gallery (no buyers). It's preposterous. She and I can no longer enjoy a day out taking photos together. It's become a contest of who is superior. Ditto when I joined the local Photography Club. Everyone is in competition with each other. Story of our lives, I guess. And probably has a big thing to do with why I dislike getting out of 1st beginner gear. Beginners have more joy. Just my opinion. Thanks for listening.

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    3. Interesting viewpoint,Cindi,I had not thought about just being IN "beginner's mind" which is, after all, a very zen concept! I like feeling COMPETENT! I know with piano playing it is just not FUN for me to plunk along.I want to really get good again so I can play and enjoy classical music! But I see that allowing oneself to be a beginner at certain things can be very good for the Soul!!

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  6. I believe we're all given certain gifts. When you discover what you were meant to excel in, you will find it easy to stick with it. That doesn't mean we should give up on learning new things, just that it's less frustrating when you use your gifts. You clearly have a gift for writing, Bob. I'm sure you have others, too. I tried golf once and hated it. I denied my gift of art for years. When I finally stopped trying things I really had no interest in, I began to excel at what I was meant to do. Fighting an uphill battle to learn something you probably have no true interest in is futile and wastes time best put toward what you really love. That has been my experience.
    b

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    1. I agree. I just know my attempts at painting or drawing are doomed. That just isn't my skill set. Neither is woodworking or restoring vintage cars. But, I like music and I like making music, so the guitar, for example, should not defeat me! And ,yes, writing and responding to the amazing comments on this blog are very satisfying.

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  7. Bob, are you "shoulding" on yourself? Liking music doesn't have to translate into mastering the guitar. Maybe it's the wrong instrument? Is it a way of staying connected with a past career? I do believe that we progress with what truly interests us. Cindi's comments about yoga resonated with me; I don't have to twist myself inside out like a pretzel in order to enjoy yoga or experience some of its benefits. Sometimes good enough is just that - good enough. Working in health care, being a generalist can be a specialty in itself, although it isn't recognized as such. Dedicating yourself to one area of health care lends to proficiency; it's another to manage many situations simultaneously. All things are difficult before they are easy; difficulties are meant to arouse, not discourage.

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    1. I hear what your saying, Mona. I don't want to master the guitar, I just want to play it well enough to enjoy it. I don't want to quit just because it is difficult at the beginning. But, Cindi's thoughts, supported by you, are important. Sometimes we need to be happy with whatever we can achieve.

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    2. I found that taking piano LESSONS really made music enjoyable.I had a great teacher who had a systematic way of teaching and got me playing simple pieces quickly, then all the way up to Tchaikovski.. (spelling..??) She specialized in adult learners.Maybe a real class ..? Ken is trying to teach himself too with videos etc.. it's going ok, but slow..and he picks it up and puts it down a lot. When I took lessons I HAD HOMEWORK AND ASSIGNMENTS and a week to do it ,so practicing at least an hour a day became a must.I really want to do this again.. it's been years..hopefully a lot of it will come back to me..

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    3. Mona makes some great points. A few years ago, I wanted to learn to play an instrument. I have a friend who is a classical guitarist who teaches guitar lessons. I took lessons from him and persisted for two years before giving up in frustration because I wasn't progressing. I concluded that the guitar was the wrong instrument for me; that the music conservatory approach that my friend taught was not a good match for me (I love blues and jazz); and the timing was wrong -- my life at that time was too busy to permit enough time for practice.

      My husband also loves music, but he has never been interested in learning to play an instrument. He has expressed his love of music by amassing a huge digital collection of albums, by listening to music regularly, and by taking up speaker building.

      Is there another more fulfilling way for you to follow your passion for music?

      Jude

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    4. I was so immersed in listening to music for so many years as part of my job in radio, that I still find sitting down to listen to most music not as enjoyable as one might think.

      But, I have experimented by listening to other styles of music from other countries and that does feed my soul.

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  8. I started playing the piano again, once I retired. I will never make it to Carnegie Hall, but am now almost as good as I was when I graduated from HS. I am very self conscious when I play, and do best if I am all alone. It gives me great joy.

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    1. I tend to wait until Betty has gone somewhere for an errand or church meeting before I pick up the guitar! But, yesterday I made it through Margaritaville.

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  9. I tend to go as far as my passion, desire and financial commitment take me, and then I back off. When I was working, it was important to become proficient or even expert in my field, but in retirement, I find that being mediocre at a lot of things is fun. I get bored when I narrow my focus and thrive when I have variety. So, I am content to be pretty good at many things - golf, tennis, sewing, photography, gourmet cooking, floral arranging, leading book discussions, paddle boarding, the list goes on. I'll never win a photography contest, or a paddle board race, but I still have fun and it makes my retirement extremely satisfying.

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    1. Good answer, Suzanne. Good enough to enjoy but not striving for the medal round. What I fight is getting to that "enjoy" level. But, these comments have helped me put the issue in much sharper focus.

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