Lets’ be honest, the first time any of us attempted to do something for the first time the results weren’t great. The nature of being a beginner, to put it bluntly, is to suck. Going back to childhood, the first time we walked, rode a bike, wrote a sentence, swung a bat, swam, drew….you name it, we sucked at it. Even those born with gifts that made them exceptional at their crafts as adults started as beginners.
The nature of learning is to start from the beginning and embrace the long, humbling path to mastery. In short, to learn we have to be ok with being bad at something.
Learning something new is hard, especially as one gets older. The truth behind the cliche about teaching old dogs new tricks is not that a person’s capacity to learn diminishes with age. Look around, there are plenty of examples of older people learning new things. What stands in the way of a person’s ability to learn is their low tolerance for failure.
Through hard work and effort, most professionals achieve a certain level of mastery in their careers. We grow accustomed to the rewards and comfortable with proven routines. We take understandable pride in being good at what we do. Failing regularly is not part of the routine for most experienced professionals.
That’s all well and good, except when the need arises to learn something new. There’s no shortage of reasons for developing new skills these days: sudden unemployment, job dissatisfaction, business failure, extra time in the day to fill, the list goes on.
Regardless of your situation, for practically every working marketing and media professional the past year has taught us the importance of broadening our respective skill sets. The notion that continuous learning and skill development is critical to one’s career is not new. But there’s no doubt it’s taken on added urgency due to the pandemic.
In my case, I decided to pursue a long held dream to write a novel. It’s a slow, painstaking process and more often than not I question whether the work is any good. The truth is much of it probably sucks. But what I learned from reading Seth Godin is that to write well one has to get comfortable with writing poorly. Writer’s block is fundamentally a fear of stringing shitty sentences together on the journey to finding your voice. I think this lesson applies to learning any other skill.
Most of us draw confidence and strength from our past successes. But to learn something new you must be willing to start from the beginning. To get ok with failure. It’s not possible to learn without adopting a true beginner’s mentality. It may seem counterintuitive, but a useful daily affirmation for all of us during these times as we endeavor to learn something new is “I suck, it’s ok.”
Originally posted Sept. 15, 2020.