Being a Beginner

Several weeks ago, I posted that I am Learning to Climb. This week, I continued learning my new hobby by watching some instructional videos and continuing to apply the lessons at the climbing gym. I learned about static versus dynamic climbing and a few ways to move the body to reach new holds without relying on shear power. I went to the gym this morning eager to apply the lessons, which after about 60 minutes of bouldering, left my wimpy runner’s forearms and hands absolutely shredded. I took a break and while I did, I watched a couple of young teens easily scale the routes that had left my hands and forearms throbbing and nearly useless. Rather than being daunted, I cracked a smile. Just a couple of weeks ago, I wouldn’t have been able to recognize how much better these teenagers were than me. I didn’t know to follow routes or attempt to climb with any technique. That realization prompted a thought: I love being a beginner.

I didn’t always love being a beginner. In fact, I hated it. In my youth, if I wasn’t naturally pretty good at something from the start, I didn’t want anything to do with it. I see this same tendency in our younger children. It is difficult for them to have the confidence to try something and look silly in the process. I’ve read before that this is one reason adult learners have a harder time picking up addtional languages – they have gotten to a point of mastery in their first language and don’t want to make silly mistakes while starting anew. These days I’m quite happy to put on a dunce hat and try something new. To a point. You’ll still never see me strap on a set of dancing shoes and hit the club – that is simply not my scene. However, in many, many other things I am happy to try and fail and try again. So that realization prompted another thought – especially in light of inspiring our kids to try something new: what changed? 

Best I can trace it, I think it all started when I went back to college as an adult learner to pursue another degree. In this case, I was motivated by the potential for advancement in the workplace, and – let’s be honest – the money that comes along with it. I went into a business program at a local liberal arts college to pursue a Bachelor of Arts in Management and Leadership. The experience was life-altering. Up until that point, I had boxed myself into adult life with a wife and kids and kind of thought, “This is it. I’ll go to work, come home, sit on the couch and watch TV, play with the kids and then go to bed.” Rinse and repeat. I assumed development was now in the children’s boat. But my time in college courses exposed me to philosophy and interesting reading; to class room discussions about ethics and professional development. I built confidence through writing papers and giving presentations. I was way better at this stuff than my first go at university. Soon, I was developing in other parts of my life as well. I joined an adult soccer league. I started running to be a better soccer player. I got into much better physical shape, which made me eager to try more new things.

As I consider helping our kids find their passion for becoming beginners, I am a bit flummoxed. My motivation was intrinsic because I wanted to make more money and help the family continue to progress. It was an internal decision that no one asked me to make. The kids don’t have families or anything else depending on them to grow and develop. So I guess that’s the lesson. People develop at their own pace and I don’t know that there is much to do to speed it up. I will just continue to expose the kids to new things and maybe something will click. And… well, maybe it won’t.

What’s your approach to getting out of your comfort zone? Do you have any tips for helping younger learners be confident enough to try new things?

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