How do I start? A beginner's guide to being a beginner
Updated: May 3, 2021
When I was 12, I took a beginner Jazz dance class with a friend of mine. Neither of us had any significant dance experience, so we were in a group of mostly adult beginners because the other girls our age were all at a higher level. We went to weekly practices for several months and performed in a recital at the end of the program, but neither of us wanted to sign up again. I enjoyed dancing, but I felt uncomfortable because I perceived myself as already being too far behind to catch up to the other girls my age. Again, I was just twelve.
Fast forward to college when I finally started to join dance groups again, not because I was any good, but because I genuinely enjoyed the activity and was eager to learn. For a long time, I deeply regretted that I hadn’t kept taking those dance classes as a kid because I agonized over how much easier it would be to learn new styles if I’d already had those years of experience. I would get discouraged easily because I was progressing at a slower pace than others. Again, I felt like I was too far behind my peers to even bother trying to catch up, but this time, I continued simply because I was having fun anyways.
Now as a young professional, dance is still a passion of mine in my free time, and while I’m significantly better than I was when I started, there are still days I kick myself for giving it up as a kid. Mostly, I wish I’d known then how to be a beginner - how to identify the things that made me happy, how to embrace all the awkwardness of learning something new, and how to stay motivated through the process.
One tool that has helped me learn how to be a better beginner is the principles of design thinking, inspired by one of my favorite self help books, Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life. While the book focuses primarily on finding and building a fulfilling career, the same process can be applied to your creative interests too. The book identifies five traits designers cultivate to help them invent new products or processes, which I’ve translated to 5 actions you can take when you want to start something new.
Curiosity: Get Curious
What are your interests? What are skills related to that interest that you may or may not already have that you want to learn more about? What resources do you need to grow that skill? Make a list or a mind map. Start to research people, places, and things that help can get you started. Ask yourself what you hope to gain from this skill. Ask other people who have that skill what they did to get started. Set goals for yourself.
Bias to action: Try Shit
Once you know what you’re interested in, the next, and maybe the most important part, is just to try it. Take an entry level class. Get a beginner’s book. Follow along with a YouTube tutorial. Commit to trying it consistently for at least a few consecutive weeks. If you end up losing interest after giving it a shot, that’s perfectly fine. Try something else. Keep trying things until something ignites that spark in you.
Reframing: Remove Obstacles
As you begin your beginner’s journey, you may start to notice things that get in the way of staying consistent. Busy schedules, a tight budget, a global pandemic that limits your access to your support network. Some of these things will be outside of your control, but some obstacles we can eliminate or at least reduce their impact. Identify what’s holding you back (logistically, emotionally or otherwise), as well as potential solutions to get you moving forward again. This is a great opportunity to ask for help, or to take a step back and work on related skills that will help you get past the obstacle.
Awareness: Trust the Process
People who use design thinking in their day-to-day know that things don’t always go according to plan. Actually, they expect things to go wrong, and they’re prepared to not give up when they inevitably hit a roadblock. They are on the lookout, so problems can be addressed quickly when they arise. You can use this same mindset as a beginner to increase your resilience against discouragement. There will always be setbacks, plateaus, and unforeseen obstacles, but if you are aware that growth is a process, you will be better prepared to carry on through those challenges.
Radical Collaboration: Find your Support Network
Speaking your intentions makes you significantly more likely to follow through on them. Likewise, finding people who share your interests and want to grow with you will significantly increase your likelihood of sticking with that activity. Most people don’t work in a bubble. Even people who prefer more solitary pursuits benefit from collaboration - like writers’ groups, running groups, and dance or music jams. While many of these in person support networks are limited in our current COVID reality, there is also a really great opportunity to work with people around the world who will bring a totally different perspective you can learn from. Whether it’s in person or online, working with others who have similar goals and interests as you increases your motivation and accelerates your growth. JAX is a platform to help you find your people for radical collaboration as you learn your next new skill.
Whatever the reasons are that stop us from pursuing our interests, we all struggle with the same fears and insecurities when it comes to trying something new.
Personally, I tend to be a perfectionist, and I have always struggled with beginnings because I know I won’t be good at something right away. Even if I keep the same motivation I feel when starting something new, there’s a self sabotaging part of my brain that reminds me I’ll never be better than someone who has been working at it their whole life, or even someone who has a natural talent or predisposition. The JAX network has helped me put my perfectionism into perspective - everyone is a beginner at some point, and with the right mindset, resources, and support system, being a beginner doesn’t have to be intimidating. It can even be kind of fun.
Author: Eileen Settlemyer
COO Jax of All, LLC.