Why do we assume that we should be good at something right from the get-go? And why do we feel like failures if it’s not a slam-dunk on the first try? It’s like we’ve forgotten the important step of learning.
I recently watched a little boy teach his father how to dribble a basketball. The boy was about eight years old, and it was clear that his father had never even held a basketball, let alone played a game. He held his arm out at a rigid 90 degrees and slapped the ball at shoulder height with a flat, open palm. A few wobbly bounces in, the ball veered off into the bushes.
“Like this,” the boy said. “Do it lower to the ground.” He passed the ball to his father. “Hmmm. Try bending your elbow more. Yes. That’s better.”
The ball spiked off to the bushes again within seconds. The boy retrieved it and they tried again.
“It will help if you bend your knees a little bit. Here, I’ll show you.”
And on it went. It seemed like such a tender father-son moment. I admired the father. He and his son were in the courtyard of my building — such a public place — and I saw no shame or embarrassment in him as his young boy taught him this simple skill. Such humility. He was just learning.
When you’re the grown-up, expert or authority on something, you’re used to knowing your stuff inside-out. A willingness to learn something new doesn’t come easy.
Yeah, but I don’t know anything about that.
Yeah, but I’ve already worked for 15 years in this field. I’ll have to start all over.
Yeah, but that means I’ll have to go back to school.
Yeah, but I’m an expert in this and I’ll only be a novice at that.
Of course we want to be good at the things we pursue, but getting there requires a willingness to take the first shaky step, even if it means starting with the basics, risking looking stupid, asking dumb questions, or learning from someone much younger than yourself, like, say, your eight-year-old kid.
Attempting anything new, whether it’s starting your own business, making a career change or, heck, even learning to dribble a basketball, puts you in the vulnerable position of having to learn something new. This is when you have to embrace your inner amateur, the part of you that is willing to try for the hope of becoming better.
This takes guts, especially when it’s very likely that you’ll suck at first. Trying is step #1 in getting it right. Trying again is step #2.
The good news is, being an amateur is temporary. Kind of. You learn a little about something you knew nothing about and suddenly you’re less of an amateur. Keep working on it and you may become a pro. Really hone your skills and you may eventually reach the level of mastery. But eventually you’ll want to try something in a new area, something you know nothing about, and so you’ll become an amateur in a new domain once again. Embrace it. Or if you can’t find the willingness to embrace it, at least don’t fight it. Who knows what you might learn.
Published at Entrepreneur.