Embracing the beginner's mind


Photo by Jukan Tateisi on Unsplash

The Beginner's Mind

These days, I am meditating every day. One theme in the guided meditations that I'm following is the beginner's mind. I have come across a great article that highlights the benefits of approaching life with the beginner's mind.

A huge need is a huge opportunity

There is a huge need for beginner material for any kind of topic. This includes any format like video courses, articles, books, tutorials, podcasts. The content-focused need for beginner materials on the one hand is joined by a mix of need for belonging, encouragement, nurturing on the other hand.

Where there is a big need, there is also a big opportunity for contributions. A crucial insight to me is that even beginners can contribute to the beginner experience of others! The recent rise of practices like learning in public, digital gardens, and growth of different communities focused on learning on Twitter, Discord, dev.to and elsewhere are a reflection of this need. There's so much more ground to cover!

If you contribute to lower the "adoption barrier" to any topic or skill for one person, you will have a tiny contribution to all of their creations henceforth. If you made a difference for one person, the reward is already huge! And with today's distribution channels you have the opportunity to impact millions and billions of people.

Of course, more and better content further down the levels of competency is a good contribution as well, but I believe that great beginner's content is heavily undervalued today.

Open the gates of learning

There is an aspect of gatekeeping in many communities - shaming or blaming people for not giving it their 1000%, not making a topic a center of their life from the get go , and so on. I have encountered this attitude in various communities across the board.

It's time to embrace amateurs who do something for the joy of it, and not necessarily to earn a living. The more amateurs there are, the more people will also push forward the field as a whole and contribute to the well-being of everyone, and so we also enable a generational transfer of knowledge, a unity and connection between all kinds of humans.

Another gatekeeping aspect is the lack of accessible content, making content only accessible in expensive ways or through hard to access education paths. Today we have the means to share knowledge (almost) globally to anyone having free access to internet, and this option is still being underused.

On the flip side, in all communities I have also encountered natural teachers, who have a joy in teaching and even pro-actively offer to help, show the tricks of the trade and provide beginners with a sense of welcoming encouragement and the underlying message of you are ok the way you are. I believe that teaching in such a way is one of the noblest actions there is.

I am deeply grateful to all teachers and mentors I had in my life, and most of them I have encountered sort of naturally and organially and not by an inner will or decision. To me, the existence of such gracious people is a huge contribution of a society.

How to begin, skillfully

How to best be a beginner?

For me personally, the biggest blocker of learning is my inner critic that criticises me even before I start to learn and create. The natural way to counteract that is to be prolific. Create, create, create!

There's a relevant adage in software development (this version is from the article of the same title):

You Should be Embarrassed by Old Code

That doesn't mean that a year ago you shouldn't have coded that, it just means that being embarassed at your older work is a good sign of your growth. Your coding skills/style improved so much that you can now see the difference! The lesson is that when in doubt, bias towards action and creation.

You will improve in a craft naturally when you focus on creation, learning more about the intricacies of different approaches and train your eye and natural feeling for the craft itself. Another aspect that's important to highlight is that even without improving, enjoying the journey of learning, creating, engaging yourself in a topic is already a win in itself.

Feedback is gold

As the beginner, be aware that you can contribute immensely by sharing your questions and impressions with the relevant community. Giving direct feedback to the content creators often is incredibly valuable.

Beginners have an uncanny ability to spot the obvious and express it in a straightforward manner - where others have already developed blind spots or overly complex ways that are really workarounds.

I strongly believe in the value of feedback, and authentic self-expression and curiosity is the best vehicle for feedback. It's up to the general community/the specific content creator to listen to the feedback and filter it.

With filter I not only mean a simple useful/not useful label, but also in an advanced meaning of "to derive appropriate steps to incorporate the feedback". Sometimes this could mean to develop entirely new ideas, solutions or approaches that fundamentally address the feedback from a different place.

Each iteration of feedback and incorporation of feedback improves the content, and paves the way for more people to access the content and benefit from it. This is tremendously important and contributes so much to the collective progress and knowledge!

The student is the teacher

In my opinion, the real masters of a craft realize that in some way they will always stay a beginner and there is no real difference between someone who starts today and someone who has practiced for years. I always compare this to sports like soccer for example, where the most successful players are still learning the basic moves of the game - passing, positioning, timing, ... . You are a beginner the same way you become a master - by learning and practising the fundamentals over and over.

As a beginner, reach out to experts and other beginners alike. For virtually any topic or hobby, there is also a surrounding community of enthusiasts. Many relationships stem from the same passion about a certain topic, so don't hesitate to share your passion and ask your questions. At the same time, whenever you feel like it, provide your open ear and interest to anyone asking question and sharing their point of view as well!

Last but not least, just like everyone is a beginner at something, everyone is an expert at something else as well.

With this article, I encourage everyone to contribute to the beginner experience.

No matter where you are at in your journey, embracing the beginner's mind will benefit you and the ones around you, whether by asking questions, sharing your insight or inspiring someone else to take a first step at anything. At any time, the student is already the teacher, and the teacher is still the student.

Published 16 September 2020

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