You don’t have to be a professional newbie to join the exhilarating ride called the learning curve. Whether you are looking to bring passion and excitement to the mundane aspects of your life or just anxious about an important upcoming life change, learning to embrace the beginner’s mind can enhance your experience.
I arrive at a downtown hotel, on time but rumpled and sweaty after hiking three blocks in my best heels. I stop for a name tag and choose a seat among dozens of jovial professionals as my panicky thoughts begin to drown out the din in the massive ballroom. Will I fit in? Will I say something stupid? Will they know that I am new?
I have just entered my first continuing education luncheon in my new career as a real estate broker. I stop to take a deep breath and ponder my current situation: middle aged, divorced, on my third religion and embarking on my fourth career, once again I have no idea what to expect. Yet having played the role of newbie hundreds of times in my life, I know that I will get a lot more than chicken salad out of today’s meeting if a follow my own simple rules for being new.
First, give up all pretensions of expertise. No matter how well you have polished your shoes or your story, everyone can spot a beginner. Once I began to relinquish my need to know every fact and my obsession with looking like I know what I am doing, I relax into the kind of in-the-moment intuition that opens doors and increases my learning capacity. Others agree.
Nancy Thompson recently put her corporate business travel career on the back burner to follow her passion as an event planner. Her company, Flourish, targets successful women like herself by offering forums and events to enhance the body, mind and spirit. With the open mind of a newbie, Nancy soon realized that despite a formidable professional business plan, she had no idea what she was in for. It wasn’t until she abandoned the plan, slashed her budget and scaled back her operation that her concept began to take off, attracting best-selling authors in intimate venues, events which bring women back month after month. Says Nancy, “by letting go of the way I was supposed to look, I filled an unmet need in the Portland community.”
Embracing rather than squandering your amateur status is another technique for the new in the know. “You will never be more focused, more curious or more passionate about your subject than you are at the beginning,” says. Nikki Gardner, top producing realtor at Windermere Realty Group in Portland, Oregon. Just a few years into her career, Nikki used her natural “drive to find out” from the get-go. “Having more questions than your clients,” pays off when it comes time to compete for a listing or represent buyers in a transaction. Nikki understands that by replacing her fear of the unknown with a curiosity for what might be, she let her enthusiasm substitute for the momentum that she lacked. Beginner’s luck is anything but!
Successful newbies also take advantage of their status as the new kid on the block. You will never be more popular or attract more good will than when you are new. When I was learning to windsurf in the Columbia Gorge, I rarely had to worry about getting my rig off the car alone in 40 knot winds. And if I was having difficulty with a particular move in the water, impromptu lessons regularly happened. People in this world-class windsurfing capitol were more than happy to share their experience with me and to show me their secret tips.
For some, being new is a well-developed art form that begins out of necessity. Rahul Vora, software engineer for the multinational software company, Autodesk, has mastered the art of being new. On arriving in the United States from his native India 23 years ago, Rahul confesses being overwhelmed by the changes. Now as chief architect for multi-million dollar software products, he uses the skills he honed as a student in a brand new country. Stress levels soar when deadlines loom and cultural and communication issues arise. “When I go into a high level meeting with the thought that I am hearing these issues for the first time, I begin to relax and become more creative. Often my relaxation is enough to ease the tension of all the participants in the room.”
I take a break from writing to attend my 12 year old son’s Little League game. Asher doesn’t know that he is my favorite coach in the art of being new as he readies himself to pitch for the very first time. Good-naturedly warming up until it’s time to take the mound as starter, he walks the first batter, strikes out the next, and then fumbles the ball resulting in a stolen base. One of his throws sails way over the catcher’s head. His team rallies behind him, cheering him on until the inning ends without a score. Asher’s wide grin across freckled cheeks tells the whole story of how to be new at anything—enjoy yourself and don’t be afraid to make a few mistakes!