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Embracing the Discomfort of Being a Beginner

One of the quickest ways to kill your dreams is to be unwilling to be a beginner.

The beginning is full of unknowns. (And the unknown is scary.) It’s clumsily stumbling your way through, learning your way around, taking wrong turns, making mistakes, course-correcting. Figuring shit out.

Being a beginner means rough drafts. It means uncertainty in exactly how it’s all going to come together. It means vulnerability. It means challenging the ego and the ego doesn’t like that.

Above all, it means being uncomfortable. And that wherein lies the rub. We take discomfort personally, as though it must be a sign that we just aren’t cut out for whatever it is that we are trying to do. The reality is, being uncomfortable is just a part of the process of doing something new. Whether it’s new to you (such as a skill you want to develop) or you’re setting out to do something that requires you to pave your own path (such as starting a business) or a mixture of both, it’s all unchartered territory that you have to take one step at a time.

Overriding Your Fear Response

Fear of the unknown is innate to us as a species. It’s steeped in our survival instincts. Whatever is unknown poses a threat to our safety, but that instinctual part of our brain doesn’t know the difference between a mortal threat (like a saber tooth tiger) and something that is simply pushing us out of our mental/emotional comfort zone. All it sees is BIG SCARY UNKNOWN THING REQUIRING VULNERABILITY and it triggers fight or flight mode.

Understanding and recognizing this when it happens is the first step to being able to override it. Accept that it’s an important part of your wiring, not a bug or defect. You have been gifted with a consciousness that is capable of identifying this process and then making your own choices ─ you don’t have to follow the fear response, regardless of how strong the inclination is.

Your commitment to growth has to be stronger than your fear so that when the choice is presented to you, you make the choice aligned with what you want. You take action through the fear and discomfort. You trust that it’s worth it because the alternative ─ staying small ─ is more painful than the growing pains.

Impatience and Comparison: A Deadly Mix

When we want something badly, like to be a bestselling author or seven-figure entrepreneur, impatience can be one of our worst enemies. Every roadblock that is thrown our way that delays the desired outcome is an invitation to give up rather than trust that every experience (even the seemingly negative ones) are a necessary part of the process. Even worse, sometimes the sheer scope of all that needs to be done to accomplish the thing we want overwhelms us and makes us throw our hands up before we’ve even started.

The thing is, the time is going to pass, anyway. If what you want will require you to go back to school to get a degree, four years sounds like a long time. But four years is going to come and go quickly, and you can either arrive at it with the degree or without it.

The discomfort of the growth process is also exacerbated when we focus on comparing ourselves to other people who are at different stages of the process.

Even people who seem to be an “overnight success” have been through challenges you can’t see and deal with fear/discomfort just as intimately as you do. No one is immune. Most “overnight success” stories came after years of honing their skills, trying and failing at other ventures, pivoting, and continuing on despite many run-ins with fear, rejection, and disappointment.

No one’s journey is perfectly smooth and without the discomfort of discovery. None of us learn how to walk without falling down or talk without stumbling over our words, but imagine if we’d judged ourselves during those processes. Imagine if we’d looked at the kid next door who was already running around and thought, “well, that kid is way better at this walking thing than me, I should just give up!”

We have to start somewhere and be brave enough to see it through and trust the process.

Every Level Has a Beginning

Whenever you reach a goal, there will be another one after it. We are wired to want to move forward; to grow and innovate. There will always be new challenges, new skills to acquire, and new levels to scale that put us right back in the beginner’s chair.

But that’s one of the keys to a fulfilling life. When we’re not growing, we’re stagnant. When things stay the same for too long, it gets boring. The paradox is that we fear change while simultaneously needing it to thrive. Once you embrace beginnings, life opens up and never gets boring again.

I’ll leave you with this quote by Ira Glass who perfectly describes the experience of being a beginner and the importance of fighting through the discomfort:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.” ─ Ira Glass

The discomfort required to grow is what keeps many people from reaching their goals. However, it’s important to trust the process when you're in the beginning stages of something, whether it's learning/honing a new skill, starting a new venture, or finding your way through unchartered territory. Follow these tips to get a new perspective on being a beginner at every stage so you can embrace the process and consistently move forward to achieve your dreams.

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