Leaning In To Becoming A Beginner

Written by Darren Kanthal

August 15, 2022

Leaning In To Becoming A Beginner

At the beginning of each year, I revel in buying 2 paper calendars (one for home and one for the office) and also creating my goals for the year. Mind you, I’m not big on resolutions – there’s nothing I’m trying to “resolve” per se, but I do love this activity.

You might have heard this common saying, “a goal that’s not written down is only a wish.” I don’t completely agree with that statement, but it has stuck with me. So my goals at the beginning of each year are an important part of my planning.

On my home calendar, I track my workouts with a goal of working out 21 days per month (so far, so good in 2022). That meets my workout goal and gives me a visual for tracking it.

On my work calendar, I’ve been challenging myself to write.

Before 2022, my mindset was that I ‘hate’ writing! Any task that required writing would be procrastinated until it could be procrastinated no more. That was the impetus for me to title this year’s goals ‘The beginner and the expert are one and the same’.

The beginner and the expert are one and the same

But what does that mean, exactly? Well, I’m an expert in what I do and also a beginner at writing. I am one and the same. This thinking helped create a mind shift for me that transformed my results.

On my work calendar, I made weekly and monthly goals to write once per week. I joined a LinkedIn group that helps with marketing, and (guess what) – writing regular posts is the name of the game.

As time went on, my ‘hate’ turned to ‘dislike’ that turned into – well, nothing really. I just write as needed and don’t think of it nearly as much.

Becoming a beginner

We have to start somewhere

Somewhere along the way to adulthood, we seem to generally stop being beginners. Most of what we do we already have experience or expertise in – driving, working out, our careers, etc. And when we actually have to be a beginner – good lawd! That’s some scary sh*t!

I enrolled in a coaching program called CTI in January of 2019. Within the first month of enrollment, The Kanthal Group landed its first client. I was a beginner. And all the beginner thoughts rushed into my brain.

What if you screw it up?
How can this person trust you?
How can YOU trust you?
What happens if…. (you can fill in the blank).

Like everything else, after that first client – I was no longer a beginner. Then came clients 2, 3, 100…and so on. Turns out, the beginner and the expert were one and the same.

Starting over on my bike

Over Memorial Day this year, I bought this amazing machine (aka a mountain bike) from my buddy’s shop in Durango called 2nd Ave Sports. It’s a 29’er (that means it’s got 29-inch wheels), and my old bike had 27.5-inch wheels.

1.5 inches is not all that big of a difference, but still, different enough. Although I’m not an ‘expert’ mountain biker, I can ride. And yet, on this new bike, I felt off balance. I was complaining that I wasn’t riding as well. I had thoughts that this new bike (that was no small investment, mind you) was somehow less than the old bike that I was extremely ready to part with (even though it too was a badass machine).

A 29’er mountain bike

Ya see – here I was again, the beginner and the expert being one and the same. Not to mention, I like biking! It’s fun! But there I was complaining about the bike (of course, I wasn’t complaining about the RIDER – hmph!).

Beginning a new stage of career growth

As you may already know, a lot of my coaching orbits people’s careers. I work with people who are embarking on a promotion, looking for a new job altogether or simply want to be better in the job they currently hold.

Undoubtedly, even though my clients are experts in their field and function, they are a beginner in our coaching. They are a beginner trying the things we discuss. They are beginners exercising greater self-control. They are a beginner saying “I don’t know” and feeling confident about saying it. They are beginners in this next stage of their career growth. But somewhere along our travels, we were taught that not knowing is something to frown upon – I call bullshit!

When starting a new job, either by promotion or joining a new firm, much of what we do is new. If we fight being a beginner, we become self-defeating; we create and then wallow in our own stress. We say things like ‘I SHOULD…be better, know better, be an expert, <fill in the blank>.

Instead of resenting your beginner status, I advise embracing it.

Become curious about it. Using curiosity as your guide will help you come to answers quicker, you’ll think more broadly about your situation, you’ll see angles you didn’t think possible, and you’ll graduate from that beginner status in record time.

We can only graduate to what’s next after being the beginner

Me and my buddy Burke out riding

Me and my buddy Burke out riding

As I thought about my yearly calendar activity and my new bike, it dawned on me – I’m a beginner WAY more than I’d ever thought. As the event of being a beginner came into focus, I realized that previously it was often accompanied by feelings of insecurity, anxiety, annoyance, procrastination, and (in my best baby voice) ‘I don’t wanna do it!’.

Instead, this year I’m working on what I call ‘enlightened curiosity and excitement’. I’m leaning into being a beginner and recognizing all the things that come with it – I notice my body sensations, I’m aware of the internal dialogue and when it turns negative, I change the discussion.

I notice what’s going on around me – the tree branches brushing my helmet and the dust flying from the rider in front of me. My hands on the keyboard and the paragraphs on the page.

Bottom line, if we dread being a beginner, we may often miss the invaluable lessons to graduate from beginner to whatever is next. I don’t know about you, but I like being alive. It’s fun! And I fully plan on embracing my beginner-ness whenever it pops up.

Darren Kanthal

Darren Kanthal, Founder of The Kanthal Group, is a values-driven leadership and career coach with over 20 years of experience in HR and Talent Acquisition. Darren is intensely passionate about helping mid-career leaders cut through the BS, do the foundational work, and achieve their greatness.

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