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Dec 2, 2011

On Being a Beginner


“To be a learner means to adopt a particular attitude about ourselves: It means letting ourselves be beginners…” 
~Barbara Baig, How to Be a Writer

I’ve been enjoying Barbara Baig’s book How to Be a Writer.  I actually got it free for kindle on my iPhone. I’ve been reading through it slowly, as leisure reading is not my top priority with two little ones under foot, but I’ve been hanging on the author’s every word. I do not consider myself a skilled writer, but writing is a hobby that I feel good about engaging in and learning more about. I’m not much of a crafter or a decorator. And I’m certainly not musically inclined or a whiz in the kitchen.  But the one thing that I have consistently enjoyed throughout my life has been writing. I journaled through my teenage and college years, and I picked up blogging after Kevin and I got married. I figured it would be a great way to record our memories while partaking in a hobby that gave me some fulfillment.  There’s something about words that fascinates me and something about being able to communicate on paper that seems compelling. I do my fair share of reading, and I’m always intrigued with authors who can paint a clear picture with words. All that to say, I'm appreciating Baig's perspective that skilled writing is primarily a learned skill, one that everyone has the opportunity to acquire with the right amount of desire and practice.

Today as I was reading Baig’s book I came across the statement above, “To be a learner means to adopt a particular attitude: It means letting ourselves be beginners…” That statement struck a chord with me. Although she was referring to the realm of writing, that statement can apply to so many areas of life. She states, “Many adults have trouble being beginners; they want to know how to do things ‘already’.” Isn’t that so true? Why is that? Why do we struggle so much with being a “beginner”? Because I truly believe that the attitude of “I-should-know-this-already” paralyzes me and many others from taking the necessary steps to one day excel in a particular field.

So what does it mean to be a “beginner?” Whether you’re a beginner cook or a beginner musician or a beginner basketball player or a beginner mom, one of the necessary character qualities that blankets any type of beginning learning is, no doubt, humility. And isn’t that one character traits that is often the hardest to put into practice? Practicing humility means being comfortable with who God made you to be to the point that you don’t have to pretend to “be something” or “do something” that you’re not capable of “being” or “doing”. It puts you in the ideal position to learn. It allows you to place yourself under the instruction of another with nothing to prove.  I would dare say that humility is a non-negotiable when it comes to learning. 

Another prerequisite to learning is patience. This is where the rubber meets the road for me. I want to keep my time as a “beginner” as short as possible. I don’t want to endure continual the trial and error of learning something new. I become obsessed with performance. I want to know as soon as possible that I am “good” at something. I either want to excel right away, or I want to drop it all together. I take on an all-or-nothing attitude. Unfortunately, all that this attitude does is prolong ignorance. Impatience sets me up for failure every time. It’s no surprise then that in order to acquire a desired set of skills one must be willing to take all the time necessary to be a beginner

How are you at being a beginner? What other character qualities make for a good beginner? Are you trying to learn something right now that requires humility and patience? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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