Why You Should Be a Beginner

Photo by Maria Orlova on Pexels.com

Welcome to early winter — of the longest year.

I’m certain your journey through 2020 has brought you more than a few twists & turns — impacting both life & work. These moments may have shifted your mindset, caused you to take stock. These moments may have rocked you at the core.

On my end, I’ve noticed some significant changes. I’ve had the desire to write less and think more. To take another look at the world of change management. To reach out & collaborate.

I’ve also noticed a keen interest in the artificial distinction between the idea of “craftsmanship” and our own work. This was largely the by-product of something entirely new for me — a hobby — a life element that I hadn’t previously declared or pursued. I slowly began to see the link between learning a craft, and our day-to-day work. Moreover, that there was something in all of this that we were sorely missing.

The craft I have chosen, photography, is wide & expansive — and because of these attributes, provides rich learning opportunities. One key advantage is there is not an easy path to achieve mastery quickly; requiring significant time served as a novice. I’ve had to become more patient, more open to failure and more appreciative of the time needed to improve. (Yet, thumbing through a book of Steichen’s work, I was happy to start at what Whitney Johnson refers to as “the bottom of the learning curve”.) Yes, beginnings can be frustrating, but also glorious — if the context in which you find yourself aligns with the spirit of the process. In any case, there should be no shame in declaring ourselves as “apprentices”. I am happy to be one.

Why we fail to approach growth at work in this spirit, is more likely due to the pressing needs of organizations, rather than the good of the work or our professional development. Of course, projects must be completed, targets met, goals fulfilled. But still, there are obvious advantages. If we could somehow approach some portion of our work as a craft — creativity, engagement & innovation may get a needed boost. If we could be an “apprentice” within a defined area, the pressure to be perfect, to know it all, to pass the test, to dazzle (or dominate) the room, could lessen.

We might allow ourselves the time & space to expand the horizon of our work, to seek new methods/strategies through new topics or adjacencies. This in turn could help us become better at what we do. (This strengthens our core and possibly the core of the organizations in which we work.)

During every year we could re-dedicate ourselves to our profession and become a beginner in some regard. To choose an avenue to explore, whether this is carried out in partnership with our employers, independently, with the help of a new contact, or a course of study.

However, the desire to “check the box”— has to be retired. Living in the “apprentice” phase should not be judged or hurried. We should accept that early steps are just the start. That we have much to learn. That this will take time.

Poorly executed photographs aside, I’ve learned much during this uniquely grueling year. Lessons that will stay with me — and could be incorporated into my work going forward. I’ve learned that continuing to feel useful is vital. That adapting to constraints is anything, but glamorous. That growth happens in fits & spurts (and it is often imperceptible), when we face those constraints.

To hone a new craft, we all have to start somewhere.

Even if that somewhere is at the very beginning.

And that’s perfectly alright.

What I’m listening to:

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist who focuses on empowering work through the development of a strong foundation. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including the Harvard Business Review, Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

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