Why do we assume that we should be good at something right from the get-go? And why do we feel like failures if a new initiative isn't a slam-dunk on the first try? Seems like we’ve forgotten the important step of learning.
I recently watched a little boy teach his father how to dribble a basketball. The boy was about 8 years old, and it was clear that his father had never even held a basketball, let alone played a game. The man held his arm out at a rigid 90 degrees and slapped the ball at shoulder height with a flat, open palm. A few wobbly bounces in, the ball veered off into the bushes.
“Like this,” the boy said. “Do it lower to the ground.” He passed the ball to his father. “Hmmm. Try bending your elbow more. Yes. That’s better.”
The ball spiked off to the bushes again within seconds. The boy retrieved it and they tried again. “It will help if you bend your knees a little bit. Here, I’ll show you.”
And on and on it went. It seemed like such a tender father-son moment. And you had to admire the father. He and his son were in the courtyard of my building -- a public place -- yet I saw no shame or embarrassment in the man as this young boy taught him this simple skill. Such humility. He was just learning.
So, what's the lesson here? It's that when you’re the grown-up, the "expert," the "authority" on something, you’re used to knowing your stuff inside-out. And a willingness to learn something new may not come easy:
Yeah, but I don’t know anything about that.
Yeah, but I’ve already worked for 15 years in this field. I’ll have to start all over.
Yeah, but that means I’ll have to go back to school.
Yeah, but I’m an expert in this, and I’ll only be a novice at that.
Of course, we want to be good at the things we pursue, but getting there requires a willingness to take that first shaky step, even if that means starting with the basics, risking looking stupid, asking dumb questions or learning from someone much younger than yourself, like, say, your 8-year-old kid.
Attempting anything new, whether it’s starting your own business, making a career change or, heck, even learning to dribble a basketball puts you in the vulnerable position of having to learn something new. This is when you have to embrace your inner amateur, the part of you that is willing to try for the hope of becoming better.
And that embrace is going to take guts, especially when it’s likely that you’ll suck at whatever you're learning. But trying is step #1 in getting it right. Trying again is step #2.
The good news is, being an amateur is only temporary. Kind of. You learn a little about something you knew nothing about, and suddenly you become less of an amateur. Then you keep working at it and maybe you become a pro. You really hone your skills and maybe you eventually reach the level of mastery.
Eventually, though, you’ll want to try something in a new area, something you know nothing about. So, once again, you’ll become an amateur in yet another new domain. Embrace it! Or, if you can’t find the willingness to embrace it, at least don’t fight it.
Who knows what you might learn?