Business Columns & Blogs

The benefits of being a beginner at something, again

A window at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.
A window at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Boise State University

It’s summer. No school. Free time to lie in the grass, look at the clouds, do nothing.

Alas. I’m a student to the core. When I was a kid and school was out, what game did I play? “School.” I always had my head in a book. And I’m still doing it, these days with my head in the computer.

I signed up for an 30-day online course in a field I’d never really known much about before. Daily writing assignments on a self-chosen project. The lingo is new. The concepts are foreign. The learning curve is huge.

I’m overwhelmed, desperately trying to keep up. I find I may spend up to a three hours a day — far more than the course “advertised.” Right after I submit an assignment, boom, my computer announces a new email with the next one. My thinking feels mushy and my writing is awful in this new field.

And I’m loving it.

Years ago, a top-notch software executive told me that he was taking up the guitar. He admitted he was wretched at it, but he was thoroughly enjoying it — not only because he is a guitar fan, but because it forced him to be a beginner.

“And that,” he said, “is what I have to remember in my job — not everyone knows what I know and so I shouldn’t get frustrated if they’re not up with me. I have to remember what it feels like to be a beginner myself. Therefore, guitar lessons.”

I like that philosophy and have used in myself for years. When I find I’m in a rut, perhaps not challenged as much as I should be, I find some course or some new skill to learn, dive in and relish being “a beginner.” I’ve got nothing to prove and figure that I can learn from experts who are — thank you thank you — willing to teach those of us who want to learn.

And, since for some of us summer has a little different rhythm, why not try out something new, just for a couple of months?

My list is endless, from petroglyphs in the Snake River to how stained glass windows are made.

What might your beginner skill be?