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On Building & Beginning

Lately I've been thinking a lot about the concepts of building and beginning

I think it all started while watching my kids participate in their current sporting activities. These days I'm spending four afternoons/evenings a week watching Simon and Anna practice their respective sports - Anna at gymnastics and Simon at Tae Kwon Do (two times a week each). 

During the time I'm sitting there observing their practices, a lot of thoughts go through my head. Sometimes it's memories about my own childhood sports experiences (soccer, swimming and golf), or thoughts about my Mom and how she juggled three kids in sports, and other times it's thoughts about Simon or Anna (what's working and not working, how they are doing, what kind of questions I can ask in the car on the way home, etc). I'm really thankful I'm able to have the chance to literally watch them build their athletic skills. 

One of the things I'm super interested in right now are the ways in which their coaches break down the skills they are learning into really small tasks. In gymnastics especially I can see how these simple, small actions will combine together into one big exercise or routine down the road. The coach sets up what basically amounts to an obstacle course and the girls move from one skill to another - one stop will be a handstand, one stop will be a finish pose, one stop will be jumping, etc. I don't even know all the technical names for everything but it's super clear that it's a thought out path towards more advanced skills.

That focus on one small thing at a time - building to mastery by starting with the basics - isn't foreign to me but I love seeing it play out right in front of my eyes.  

Learning a new skill or sport or art form or way of being takes time and repetition.

It takes doing the same move over and over and over again. That move may involve a paintbrush or a pen or standing on your hands or lacing up your shoes or yelling kiai or sitting at a wheel or looking through the lens over and over and over again. 

And it takes a willingness to be bad at it in the beginning.

We all have to start somewhere.

Lately I've needed to remember that for myself. We don't begin at the end - we begin right where we are with what we have right in front of us at any given point in time.

At what point in our lives do we forget that it takes work to learn a new skill? Or maybe the more appropriate question is, at what point do we stop being interested in putting out the effort to be a beginner again? Do you have the expectation either that everything should be super simple and you should be an immediate expert OR that it's simply not worth it because there is too much effort involved?

Tae Kwon Do is not easy for Simon. In fact, it's really hard for him in many ways (physically and mentally) and he gets frustrated often. Frustrated for Simon often looks like turning his back on his instructors or classmates, laying on the floor in the middle of the class, or loud whining noises. A little out of character for most 13-year-olds and a little distracting for the participants and instructors but the reality for Simon. 

Last week I noticed that his level of frustration has decreased a bit over the last couple of times he's been there. Around here we celebrate "a bit." 

I think there's a couple reasons for the decreased frustration: 

  • (1) he's developing a positive relationship with one of the instructors who is also learning how to work with Simon (when to push and when to pull and when to joke and when to hold a firm line
  • (2) he's becoming familiar with the moves and the general routine of the practice
  • (3) he's maturing in his ability to move through his frustrations vs. letting them paralyze him

One of the most awesome things I saw last week was a stronger willingness to learn/improve. I asked two of the boys who were in his class (one of them happened to be Aaron's son Isaac) if they could help Simon see and feel the correct body form for a push-up. Simon's willingness to be taught by his peers vs. being embarrassed that he wasn't doing it correct was really a sign of progress in his own social development. 

Keep building those skills Simon. 

There's so much beauty in the building. 

Last week I spent Friday morning with my friend Kim at a local ceramics studio called Clay Space. It was her birthday and she sent me a text asking if I wanted to join her in the activity of her choice. One of the things I'm working on this year is cultivating friendships and expanding my worldview - giving myself permission to not be so obsessed about the things I'm already obsessed about or feel like I have to be an expert at everything before diving in.

Basically I'm challenging myself to be a beginner as often as possible. 

So I told her I'd meet her there. I've never sat at a wheel before. I had zero expectations and didn't at all feel like I had to come home with a completed anything. I simply wanted to go for the experience - to chat with my friend, to check out the steps involved, to get my hands messy, and to get away from the computer. 

Of course it was great and of course I had no idea what I was doing and really just made a mess and played. And it was perfect. Being in a studio environment like that was a breath of fresh air. I have nothing physically to show for my time there, but at this point in time that matters very little to me. It was an experience. I am a beginner. 

As I sat at the table rolling the clay and then at the wheel forming bowls and then breaking them down through experimentation, I thought about this post (that I had started before this adventure last week) and about the basics of skill building and mastery and being a beginner. I look forward to taking a class or watching some you tube videos and building some skills, one task at a time. 

When was the last time you were a beginner? What are you building? What holds you back?

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50 thoughts

  1. brooke1 says…
    02/09/2015

    Your words are the best!!

    Reply 0 Replies
  2. picki56 says…
    02/09/2015

    I love your post!
    You'll see in Tae Kwon Do how all of the forms and kicks they practice over and over build up to sparring. My boys were super bored after a while of doing the same practice and forms over and over and then they got to higher belts where they could spar and it all came together! It's awesome that Simon is starting to get into it now!

    Personally I have been really interested in painting lately. I don't want to go buy a ton of stuff though since I'm not sure exactly what I would need or even how to get started. So my plan is to take a class this summer. I found the school and the instructor through a friend so as soon as the summer program is announced I'm signing up. I hate that I have to wait but with three boys, one of them only 10 months old, it would all be more stressful than enjoyable. I would spend the entire class thinking about what they are doing and what needs to be done when I get home. Summers are way more relaxed. I'm pretty sure that's true for everyone.:)

    Reply 0 Replies
  3. leslierae says…
    02/09/2015

    Love this, Ali! I'm going to save this post for my students...I'm starting painting classes for adults my age that are convinced they aren't creative or can't paint...this will be their permission slip to not be perfect as beginners!

    Reply 0 Replies
  4. cruisin_ali says…
    02/09/2015

    thank you Ali. This is me in a nutshell. I love learning new skills and techniques but then feel paralyzed when it's my turn and it's not perfect. I spend countless hours watching others on youtube "project-life-ing", "photoshop-ing", and scrapbooking... this year I'm focusing on REACHING (my OLW) and reaching to my own supplies, and taking that leap of faith. Just getting to it, just playing and accepting that it is going to take some time to get "used to it", to get my own groove and to be ok with the first pages - even if they are not perfect. I've come to realize that I am my worst critic - and I need to get over it! just do it! thanks for the inspiration in knowing that I am not alone in this and that is it ok to be a beginner! anxiety aside, it is kind of fun!

    Reply 0 Replies
  5. Coffeemomma says…
    02/09/2015

    I love to read posts like this from you, Ali, they really challenge me to look at things in a new way.

    I have always wanted to be a sketcher: someone who carries a sketchbook and watercolors and draws everywhere. It's a learning curve for sure! I've started learning some basics about watercolor and drawing instead of just "winging it", allowing myself to be a beginner and work on basics. It's a completely new approach for me, and it's been difficult!

    Reply 0 Replies
  6. hgauvin says…
    02/09/2015

    Love this post Ali! A couple of years ago, a co-worker of mine asked me to join her in a jewelry making class. I had zero interest in making jewelry but I really like this person so I went along. Fast forward a few years...the co-worker has given up on making jewelry and I have enjoyed every single class I've taken. I've made new "beading" friends and I enjoy learning new skills. Everything happens for a reason.

    Reply 0 Replies
  7. edillow says…
    02/09/2015

    Great post.
    I was kind of curious about how close my oldest two are to reaching 10,000 hours of practice time in gymnastics after reading this. Based on a very rough scratch-paper estimate that doesn't include competitions, I'd say Maddie is nearing 3,400 hours and Gracie 3,000—and both are now in their fourth year of serious competition, started in 2004 and 2007 as beginners. It's kind of crazy to think how it feels like that's about all we do and yet they're still so far away from the magic 10,000. It takes a lot of time to build!

    Reply 1 Reply
    1. AliEdwards says…
      02/09/2015

      It totally does.

  8. YolandaL says…
    02/09/2015

    That was a post filled with: HAVE MORE FIRSTS!

    Last fall I had a major abdominal surgery to repair damage from another surgery 18-months prior. And since then, I have truly been a beginner...in my own body. Each day I am still figuring out how to move, how to sit, how to do things pain-free (or how to work through small aches I haven't had before). It's hard to not be the person who could sit at a computer and crank for 12 hours if I needed to. It's confusing to to make an automatic move to grab something and realize I can't stretch that way any more. There have been many great lessons and small victories and improvement so slow it seems imperceptible. But, little by little, I am learning to move. Even if that movement feels quite different than it did a year ago.

    Reply 0 Replies
  9. claraogren says…
    02/09/2015

    Go Ali Go. :)

    Reply 1 Reply
    1. AliEdwards says…
      02/09/2015

      Thank you!

  10. jkhenson says…
    02/09/2015

    I was a teacher-subsitute and part time-for almost ten years. Long story short, I am a beginner again, in the world of marketing, and the world of business in general. Very different perspectives, efforts and interactions. I am so thankful for the chance to learn new information again (I feel like my brain is completely full some days...) as well as new people and routines. Sometimes it seems overwhelming, though. And I worry I won't make an impact/be successful. Not letting the fear immobilize me. :) Thanks for always speaking to my soul as well as my mind.

    Reply 0 Replies
  11. ScrappinMyHeartOut says…
    02/09/2015

    This post touched me in many ways, thank you for sharing these thoughts. Trying new things can be both scary and frustrating yet also exciting and amazing. For Simon, as with my own child who has paralyzing anxiety/panic attacks and meltdowns (age 17) - they are miracles. Because it doesn't come easy or naturally, what they do, in my opinion, surpasses what I accomplish effortlessly. There are so many ways to look at why it's important to keep pushing our kids to expand their worlds and social lives - and this is true. It takes a wonderful mom like you to give credit where credit is due, and celebrate not only "successes" but efforts too. Then, by giving your kids a great example - by showing them you are also a beginner at new endeavors, and you also start off with novice skills - you are walking the talk. Bravo Ali!!!

    Reply 0 Replies
  12. mtercha says…
    02/09/2015

    Go you! Awesome stuff. Pottery sounds like lots of fun. Very inspiring to read about Simon and Anna, too. You must be so proud. I can read it between your lines here. Along with scrapbooking my stories I've slowly started to work with my art journal again. I want to learn how to do brush script too. Thank you for sharing a meaningful post. You're a talented writer. Michelle t

    Reply 0 Replies
  13. themorningdew1 says…
    02/09/2015

    Wonderful words Ali! Sadly, for the longest time I was who was holding myself back. For years, I collected digital scrapbooking supplies but spent most of my time either organizing and tagging them or looking at other people's work and thinking I would never be as good as them. No more! I am now working on all my unfinished projects and yesterday I finished my Week in the Life album and guess what? It is really good! I can do this! My one little word for 2015 is "believe". I am starting by believing in myself. Thank you for the guidance and example you set and for teaching us to be kind to ourselves.

    Reply 1 Reply
    1. AliEdwards says…
      02/09/2015

      This made me so happy to read!

  14. Joanne says…
    02/09/2015

    This post came at a very good time as I was having a 'moment' this morning ! Four years ago after a gap of 26 years I went back to play hockey (I think you call it Field Hockey) ! I am not sure what possessed me - as I was no spring chicken at aged 43! I saw it more as a way of getting fit and a way of encouraging my daughter to keep playing it as she was heading into her teens and ready to give it up any week. But honestly nothing prepared me for the initial few weeks - I could hardly see the ball not to mention hit it ! All the girls I was playing with were around 16 years of age - with amazing stick skills. I had to relearn all the rules of the game - learn the new positions - get used to playing on an all-weather pitch instead of the 'grit' pitch I played on - and get seriously fit ! I couldn't count the number of times I swore I would never go back, each muscle ached and I could hardly bend over - but then all of sudden during a training session I managed to hit the ball or stop it - or not trip over my feet. I survived the first year (we play Sept - April) - got very little game time - but enough to want more ! So here I am four years later - Captain of Div 5 team - and training twice a week - with two matches at the weekend (we are always short players). To my joy my daughter kept it up and loves it - we often play on the same team - she is a beautiful player and I admire her skill so much. I am by no means this incredible player or even a particularly good one, and I often over analyse the mistakes I made after a match - but what a fab feeling it is to be out on that pitch playing a game I love so much. So starting anything new is so challenging, difficult and often embarrassing - but its so worth it ! Don't let age or ability stop you from doing anything you want - I should add that you have been a huge inspiration to me over the years - and you are the reason I love scrap booking so much - thank you - with kindest regards - Joanne (Ireland)

    Reply 0 Replies
  15. jennie says…
    02/09/2015

    So get it! I started knitting this year and want to be able to jump right to Fair Isle sweaters and perfection. That's so not happening. On the other hand, I have been very willing to tear out and start over -- the starting over is unusual for me.

    Reply 0 Replies
  16. Natalie_Bartlett says…
    02/09/2015

    A few years ago, I signed up for an 8-week scrapbooking class for beginners even I had been scrapbooking for 5 years. I was embarassed because it seemed like I was taking a step back. I almost let my ego get in the way. But I was motivated by starting at the beginning -- a step I had skipped when I first started scrapbooking. I left my ego at home, went to the classes with an open heart and learned so much. In fact, my entire approach to scrapbooking changed after those classes and gave me loads of creative confidence.

    Reply 1 Reply
    1. AliEdwards says…
      02/09/2015

      That is awesome - it is so much about ego isn't it?

  17. Kary13 says…
    02/09/2015

    Perfect timing, Ali! I started reading your post while texting with my 17yo high school senior, who is currently sitting in her AP Art class, hating every bit of it because she can't get her hands to make what is in her head. She is still something of a beginner--lots of natural ability, but in a class with many with much more experience than hers. I have a degree in fine art, and spent many years working through that same feeling, so I know how she struggles. Your post helped me crystalize what I wanted to say to encourage her to hang in there. Maybe she won't choose to take another art class--that's okay, but I'm trying to help her see that you start where you are and besides, it always seems the most infuriatingly difficult just before you figure out how to do it! I hope she gathers courage, keeps pushing herself and discovers the joy of persistence. Thanks for your inspiring post!

    Reply 0 Replies
  18. jchurch2 says…
    02/09/2015

    Ali, I feel like I know you through your absolutely honest and real blog posts. And I feel like you know me, and are talking to me in your posts. Because I have usually excelled at sports, games and other ventures I have tried, I find that I DO expect to be immediately good at new things. And it so doesn't work that way. Fortunately, I have learned to understand how to enjoy the process and go with the flow...and a lot of that has to do with you, my friend. Just through the classes I have taken with you and listening to your intuitive words, I have felt a shift. You have a profound effect on my life. I would love to meet you and give you a big, appreciative hug.

    Reply 0 Replies
  19. mmensavage says…
    02/09/2015

    I noticed over the weekend that I am not pleased with my knitting skills as of late, and I scrapped an entire project. Reading this post on one monitor (and having a knitting pattern up on my second monitor - a pattern that will require me to go outside my knitting comfort zone) has pushed me to print this pattern and head to the store tonight for new yarn. Thank you for showing me that its okay to be a beginner. =)

    Reply 0 Replies
  20. bookemper says…
    02/09/2015

    At 40, I learned how to knit and how to sew. I do sometimes have a hard time being a beginner, expecting myself to be good from the get go. Knitting has really helped me with that. Now, I try and learn something new every year.... somethings I will keep up with others not so much.

    Reply 0 Replies
  21. blestchick says…
    02/09/2015

    I'm sensing a new stamp set out of this...building on the Firsts set....maybe Steps? Baby Steps? Little Bit? Pretty please.

    Reply 0 Replies
  22. k8scraps says…
    02/09/2015

    You've definitely captured how I'm feeling about my swimming lessons......Jesus Christ! I'm floating! And I know that means I have RELAXED in the water...the feeling is awesome. Every week, I can see little improvements, from willingly putting my face in the water, to not feeling self-conscious when I go to the pool by myself to practice.

    kate

    Reply 2 Replies
    1. AliEdwards says…
      02/09/2015

      I totally love that you are doing that Kate - super proud of you.

    2. KarineC says…
      02/09/2015

      Love this post! Congrats to you!

  23. Phineartist says…
    02/09/2015

    I'm a beginner every day... it comes with being an artist. Each time I pull out a blank sheet of paper or canvas I'm pushing myself... Sometimes I can do prep work which is routine and comfortable, but most of the time I'm choosing what to paint, then as I paint I need to make thousands of little decisions - it's pretty exhausting sometimes! I occasionally choose simple subject matter but often challenge myself with new imagery which can be a fight as I get frustrated when something isn't quite right---like the painting I'm going to go to work on today. First I'm going to procrastinate and prep some canvases :) - ha, but once they're drying I'll get back to see if I can fix the perspective on my new piece.

    I remember learning ceramics - centering that ball of clay is so NOT EASY! But playing, and trying, and not giving up is so rewarding too. Go Ali, you're so smart to push yourself, and it's cool how supportive you are of your children with their new challenges. Practice is truly a win, and each day it's such a fun adventure to see what is new out there to try!

    Reply 0 Replies
  24. pammc says…
    02/09/2015

    Fear of making a fool of myself made me resist doing anything new. Encouraged by a friend I started quilting again after almost 20 years. I found a group to quilt with weekly and found a loved it. I'm still a beginner but improving constantly. After that success I decided a couple months ago to try my hand at knitting. I made a cowl and loved the meditative repetition of knitting. so now I'm working on a sweater and have found a group of knitters who meet weekly also. I've always wanted to be able to make art, so, at the age of 72 I'm taking a year long on-line class. I'm a true beginner at it and nothing turns out like I envision, but it's fun to get my hands all paint-y. I've finally found that being a beginner is better than being a never-try-er. There's no way to find out if you would like something without trying. And you may miss something really special.

    Reply 1 Reply
    1. AliEdwards says…
      02/09/2015

      Awesome.

  25. angelzmom says…
    02/09/2015

    I love playing with paper, scissors, glue and all things sparkly and I've been scrapbooking off and on for several years. But as a 62-year-old empty nester whose kids are scattered around the country, and with no grandkids yet (but the first is FINALLY on the way, hallelujah!!!) there are only so many pics I can take and scrap of my husband and beagle. I even passed up the last WITL for that reason.

    So... I recently started making cards! I still get to play with paper but without the added requirement of a photo. It's not as easy as I thought it would be but it IS a lot of fun. There's definitely a learning curve and it's truly an art in itself.

    I'm mostly using my stash and the products I already have and have been watching card-making videos online. Some of my earliest cards turned out SO awful that I actually laughed out loud - before throwing them away. Others are so perfect (to me, anyway) that I stand them up on the dining room table (my current work station) so I can see them every time I walk by.

    Once my grandbaby arrives I'll be scrapping like crazy. Until then, I have this lovely outlet for my need to play with paper, ink, sequins, etc.

    Ali, I'd love it if you would venture into the card making category, too, as I adore your artistic style. :-)

    Reply 0 Replies

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