My phone rang.
It was my young friend, Jordan. She had just landed an exciting new job in a big, prestigious social justice organization.
She was anxious that she didn’t know enough about social justice or about how the organization worked, and she wanted my advice about how she should prepare.
But really, there’s no way that even this smart young woman could learn enough to be competent in what is for her an entirely new field. She could study and prepare for weeks and not know nearly enough.
The Power of Not Knowing
It doesn’t matter that Jordan won’t walk in fully prepared. Rather than boning up and trying to become an instant expert, she needs to make use of not knowing. She should start her new job with questions, the will to work hard, and an abundance of curiosity.
Her new boss and colleagues will be happy to help her if she acknowledges that she’s a novice — bringing skills to the job, but little or no organization-specific knowledge.
When you begin anything, the first few months of not knowing offer some of the richest and most exciting opportunities. Not only will other people be willing to help you if you ask, but you’ll be more easily able to forgive yourself for making mistakes.
The Challenge of Knowing a Little
I love being a beginner.
When I start something new, I’m merely amused by my clumsy efforts and I applaud myself for having the courage to try. But it doesn’t take long after I start something new — once I’m no longer a rank beginner — to start being disappointed by my lack of mastery.
Don’t get me wrong — I also like being an expert. And in some fields, people think of me that way. But the more expert I become, the more I am aware of how much of a beginner I still am.
Even as you develop your skills, try to keep the freshness of a beginner’s mind. Be willing to acknowledge what you don’t yet know. Keep asking questions. You may find that it’s more satisfying in the long run than giving answers.
Jordan started her new job today. I hope that she is taking full advantage of her beginner’s status and enjoying every opportunities that comes with not knowing.
Try Being a Beginner at Something
It’s easy to forget what it feels like to be a beginner. Try your hand at something new — something you don’t know how to do. Ask other people to help you learn. You may be surprised by the fun you have and the good will and generosity you find in others.
Do you remember being a beginner at something? What did that feel like to you? Frustrating or fun?
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