Finding joy in being a beginner (plus my 3 top tips on how to be a beginner)

Let’s start this post off with a replay of a conversation I had with someone recently:

“I’ve started learning Norweigan
“Why not?”
“…but why? What use is it to you?”
“It’s just for fun. It just sounds like a cool language to learn. It can’t hurt to try.”

Image description: meme. Star Wars character Obi-Wan Kanobi with subtitles in yellow text that reads "visible confusion".

In the new world order of remote working and side-hustle culture, it seems to bamboozle anyone if you announce you’ve picked up a new hobby “just for fun”. Because at this point, I’m expecting some god forsaken Instagram ‘guru’ to start promoting the act of breathing as a side-hustle.

Even taking up something like a sport or running has it’s list of questions attached:

“What’s your 5k time?”
“Are you training for a marathon?”
“Are you trying to lose weight?”
“Are you going to enter competitions?”

God forbid anyone should take up running for sheer simple joy of being outside in fresh air and moving their body.

Given all of this, you start to understand why being an adult beginner is tough. But this is just the tip of the iceberg, my friends. There’s a whole load of things lurking below the surface that will try and stop you from learning new things.

The important thing is that you first learn to harness these obstacles in a way that works for you. Because being a beginner, at any age, is one of the best things you can do for your life.

Here are my three tips on how to find joy in being a beginner:

1. Get comfortable being uncomfortable.

Prior to moving to Germany, I led a very comfortable life. Too comfortable, some might say. I had a stable, salaried job with a part-time job on the side, I lived in my home country and spoke my own language daily. I never had trouble getting anything done.

And then I moved abroad.

Moving abroad or travelling is the ultimate way to become a beginner in my opinion. Especially if, like me, you never intended to leave your tiny city or tiny island for longer than a two-week holiday at any given time.

When you’re comfortable, you have no reason to blindly reach your hand outside of your safe bubble and have a feel around to see what else is out there.

When it’s thrust upon you, you get used to that twisted knot in your stomach kind of feeling and get on with it.

Moving abroad is, of course, an extreme way to feel uncomfortable. A cheaper way could be to try a vindaloo for the first time. That’ll give you the same feeling in your stomach.

In all seriousness, do things that scare you. It’s a cliche, I know. But when I made the deliberate decision in 2016 to change my life for the better, doing shit that scared me was the best way for me to grow.

2. Embrace the Fear

Being an adult beginner at anything is terrifying. We hit an age, probably somewhere in our mid-teens, where it becomes embarrassing to try new things and be bad at them. From there, the fear grows with us.

Nobody wants to be the first one to raise their hand in a classroom, university lecture hall or a mind-numbing retraining seminar at work. The fear of getting the question wrong is too high. If you get it wrong, you look like an idiot in front of your classmates/colleagues.

But…aren’t we always saying that we never learn anything unless we make mistakes?

So why are we so damn afraid to follow our own advice?!

Finding joy in being a beginner - embrace the fear. Gif from Family Guy of Peter grabbing Lois and shouting "Good! Embrace the fear!"

During my first German language course, I got my very first sentence wrong. I stumbled at the first hurdle and crumbled into a mumbling mess. 

For the other girls in my class, German would be their third, fourth or fifth language. Being a beginner didn’t scare them. Failing didn’t scare them. It was an integral part of their life. 

After some time of being too British for my own good, I let my fear curtain down. Guess what? I started to learn more, I enjoyed my lessons more and my world got a little bit bigger.

3. Find your inner child.

Kids don’t give a shit, do they? 

Because they haven’t been taught to give a shit. They have no shame, no fear and they’ll learn a new language simply by repeating words and phrases they hear.

Kids live in the moment. And when they enjoy something, they dive headfirst into it. Whether they’re good or not has nothing to do with it. Kids don’t think about whether they can make money out of it. Or if it will look good on their CV for climbing the corporate ladder in 20 years time. 

They do things simply because they are able to and simply because it brings them joy.

Do you want to take away the fear of being a beginner? Regress back to a childlike state of mind.
You might find it helps in the long run. Studies have shown that kids learn quicker than adults because they are designed to be beginners. Ever heard of the ‘Candle Problem’? More children succeed at it than adults. Why? Tom Vanderbilt, author of … has this theory:

Children, in a very real sense, have beginners’ minds, open to wider possibilities. They see the world with fresher eyes, are less burdened with preconception and past experience, and are less guided by what they know to be true.

I urge you all to find joy in being a beginner at something. After all, at the rate technology is changing, we’re all becoming “perpetual novices”. The braver and more willing we are to be beginners, the better.

I’ll leave you with this quote from Ravi Kumar, president of IT giant Infosys:

You have to learn to learn, learn to unlearn and learn to re-learn

Get out there and discover something to be a beginner at. You’ll surprise yourself.

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