German shepherd puppy sleeping
Photo by Isabela Kronemberger / Unsplash

The joy of being a total beginner even as we age

Just as I was about to start this article I stumbled on the following piece by CEO coach Peter Bregman:

Learning Is Supposed to Feel Uncomfortable
There are inescapable growing pains that come with learning, developing, and becoming better at something.

It fit perfectly with the other piece I wanted to share. I've been spending some time reading this from Tom Vanderbilt:

Beginners: The Joy and Transformative... book by Tom Vanderbilt
Buy a cheap copy of Beginners: The Joy and Transformative... book by Tom Vanderbilt. An insightful, joyful tour of the transformative powers of starting something new, no matter your age--from the bestselling author of Traffic and You May Also Like... Free Shipping on all orders over $15.

While there are parts of Vanderbilt's book which drag you into the weeds a bit, such as when he goes into excruciating detail about one's vocal chords (it gets unnecessarily gruesome), but his journey through learning/relearning singing, surfing, chess and more was a wonderful romp through what it means to be youthful.

In other words, thrust into the world of not having a clue. He's fifty-ish. He chose to immerse himself in the world of beginners across all manner of skills- juggling is my fave- which challenge him to stretch. It's a romp in a variety of ways.

By contrast, Bregman's piece expressed that piece in all of us which has reached a certain level of mastery, and then really does NOT wish to be dragged back into that awkward, newborn-colt wobbliness of the beginner.

Not looking or feeling authoritative, in other words. I have to wonder, since I know this feeling well, how much our resistance to trying new things is that we fear how we look far more than how we feel.

My parents put a great deal of value on how they looked, how they appeared to the world. Consequently, I was influenced the same way, with undue emphasis put on the body. Then undue influence to appear to be in charge, all together, all that. So any time I had built a little skill or confidence, I clung to it like a life raft even if it was minimal.

As a result I hated feeling like a beginner. I avoided situations where it would be obvious that I was a beginner. That dogs all of us in one way or another, the ego-based need to feel authoritative. Just look at how social media provides the (fake) promise of looking like you're the world's expert if you just quote enough of them regularly.

You sound like Buddha. But you ain't.

This was something I struggled with until I hit sixty.

I'm not sure what shifted. Perhaps because by that time I'd finally tamed the eating disorders. I'd begun doing adventure travel. At sixty I had decided to do Kilimanjaro, did it successfully.

Before I did Kili, though, I had to relearn my bike. The first time I'd taken the bike out, the complex 33-gear system bested me badly and I ended up with my first concussion. The bike got relegated to the garage for a number of years. Then I needed it for training.

I felt like an idiot, unable to sort out the gears, but I learned with help. After the summit, something had just clicked. I was curious about learning more skills: kayaking. Inline skating (a disaster but very funny except for my butt). I really threw myself back into horse riding lessons.

In the process of immersing myself in beginner status I was doing my brain a major favor. Not only was it loving the work, I was learning to enjoy being a rookie over and over. In fact, it became a point of pride to feel that awkwardness, for I began to see it as the beginning of growth.

Vanderbilt's book did a superb job of explaining what was going on inside my brain as I took on all those new sports. In fact, a good bit of that kind of beginner joy has been missing these last few years as I've been going through all the surgeries, and I've watched a part of me wither a bit.

Here's what I mean.

I have been highly resistant to being a beginner when it comes to my professional life, where I have a different ego attachment. There is something terribly stubborn about releasing my hold on looking authoritative, despite the fact that I will quite willingly post a photo like this:

Up to my knees, please

Stuck in the house for too long, unable to get out an' git remote, I've lost touch with that Horizon Hunter part of me that fearlessly loves new boundaries. It's still there, just on ice. I finally challenged it last year when I was invited to go on a press trip.

I wrote about how at first I said no, then yes.

Saying yes to that trip effectively launched the new iteration of my business. How poor I'd have been had I catered to the smaller part of me that was cowering from being exposed as a noob.

I AM a noob. At 71 I am a HUGE NOOB in many ways. Being a rookie is precisely the point. From the conference onward I've thrown myself into this new arena with gusto, being able to tap into all the skills that I've built while at the same time making plenty of mistakes and stumbling along the way.

It's perfectly imperfect and it awakened all kinds of good things inside. I'm loving being a beginner again, and there is plenty more to come.

I will make plenty of mistakes. Physically, too, for relearning how to use this body after all the repair work has also made me a noob in ways I didn't see coming. That was hard on the ego but interestingly, easier than the work part (we really are ridiculous). Okay, I'm the ridiculous one.

Today is Hump Day, I take my weighted vest to the sand dunes and hike, and read more, and listen to the surf and celebrate being alive. If I get to be a noob every single day it is a celebration of life. In fact, I'm tempted to seek out where indeed I CAN be a noob every day, for that is the kind of peeping-crocus energy that fires my creativity.

a person holding a baby
Photo by OPPO Find X5 Pro / Unsplash

I'm stumbling through making a press kit which I've resisted for weeks. It's being done. I'm stumbling along developing a brand new bank of contacts in a new industry. Doing it. I'm stumbling along asking this repaired body to work again. Doing it.

This is what it looks like when it's working.

Perhaps the biggest gift of all was that Vanderbilt's book allowed me to see the inner workings of the brain and body while all that beginner stuff is going on. THAT was the gift. Those perspectives allowed me to embrace the process wholesale and deal with my resistance.

As I age, as we all age, the willingness to be a beginner really is a fountain of youth. What a gift to be able to see it that way, and to welcome that awkwardness. I heartily recommend the read. Meanwhile, I'm thinking about possibly learning how to juggle. When you understand all the good things that skill does for the brain, you might want to, as well.

Who knows where we will go next?

woman in green dress standing on beach during daytime
Photo by Peggy Anke / Unsplash

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