02 Feb Be a beginner
Last week my son started reading. Actual words. I had one of those mom moments when I thought ‘how can we be here already?!’ as I listened to them learning the words with their teacher on the online Zoom class. We then had to practice the three or four reading words later each day. Oh my gosh, I know why I’m not a grade 1 teacher! The patience levels required are off the charts. Anyway, we persevered through the new words each day, the look on his face when he got it right getting me through each session. Maybe I should rather say that HE persevered through each practice session with me. I mean, the little guy had only learnt the words that day and I was expecting him to rattle them off as though he’d been reading since the day he was born! But he did his best, tried again when he got it wrong and smiled from ear to ear when he got it right. He let himself be a beginner.
How often do we start something new, something we’ve never done before, and expect ourselves to be experts? How often do we start off at beginner level but expect ourselves to be pro from the second minute? I think we also expect this of others too. No wonder we end up being stressed out! We don’t allow ourselves and others to be beginners. Instead, we expect perfection from the first time and if we can’t deliver, we get anxious, discouraged and give up – on ourselves and others – telling ourselves it wasn’t meant to be. It’s rubbish. We really can do anything we put our minds to, if only we allowed ourselves the journey of progress rather than perfection.
You see, it’s in the journey that we build character. It’s in the journey that we learn to pick ourselves up to try again, however many times it takes. It’s in the journey that we learn discipline and build resilience. We are called to persevere, not be perfect. We are meant to learn as we go, so we can then help others coming after us. I love this Thomas Edison quote: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10 000 ways that don’t work.” Perspective matters! If we start off something new, knowing in our hearts and minds that we’re beginners, allowing ourselves to be beginners, we then also allow ourselves the grace of being able to make mistakes knowing they are part of the learning and part of the next step forward.
I know for many of us this is such a hard thing to do because of one big fear many of us have – the fear of what others think. Of all the things that hold me back, this is one pops up most often. Approval from others is something that so many women crave. It’s also why we are so reluctant to try new things, in case we fail, and our protective shield gets tarnished. There are two types of ‘critics’ we need to deal with here – the first being ourselves. On this one, we are the only ones that can shut down the negative committee that meets in our heads. We’ve got to flip the script, change the narrative. This is a topic all on its own! The second group of critics, those outside of our heads, are often made up by us too. Yip, we assume others will judge. We create scenarios and tell ourselves what others would say, without them saying a thing! The thing is though, that those who have been there too, those who have tried and tried again and finally made it, they will never judge you for your mistakes. They will never criticize you for having to try again. They’ve been there, they know. If anything, they’ll be the ones cheering you on from the side lines. (Well, they should, but that’s also a topic for another day) It’s a strange thing about humans, we have a lot to say about lives we’ve never lived, things we’ve never tried and mistakes we’ve never made.
I think we need to give ourselves more of a chance and take advice and guidance from those who actually qualify. After all, “It’s not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.” (Theodore Roosevelt)