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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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48 thoughts

  1. abragg79 says…

    Sometimes I feel like we're on the same wave length. That may sound trite, but I do feel that way. This morning, before I sat down to check out my favorite blogs (yours included), I did some creative play. This past weekend I bought a watercolor set - one of my wishes for this year was to try new techniques. really, to just try new things. And, as I played with the watercolors and experimented with brushes and strokes and writing words, I was frustrated because it seemed so...hard. Learning something new? So. Hard. But I powered through and I made myself a little piece of quote art. Is it perfect? Nope. But I tried. I began.

    I think, as we get older, that this mindset is what separates the young at heart from the curmudgeons. I fight my inner-curmudgeon daily (I'm only 35) and forcing myself to put myself out there as a newbie, a beginner, helps me keep those curmudgeonly feelings at bay.

    Anyway, imagine my surprise (and delight) in reading this post an hour later. So encouraging. So, thank you. ;)

    Reply 0 Replies
  2. KarineC says…

    What holds me back the most - why me, of course. The inner perfectionist, telling me I can't do it.

    I'm working on it though. Baby steps, right?

    Reply 1 Reply
    1. AliEdwards says…

      Always baby steps!

  3. Kathylieb says…

    i have gotten so much better at taking these kinds of risks - trying new things and being vulnerable. I finally decided to stop holding myself back. I figure every class has it's "worst" student - and I am willing to be that student. At least I'm growing and I won't have regrets! My most recent adventure is a sculpture class - never sculpted before in my life, but I am loving it!

    Reply 0 Replies
  4. JenHart says…

    For my OLW (Assurance) I have been thinking a lot and doing a lot around self-confidence and self-esteem and how much that is tied up in how I look and how working on how I look is changing me. It has been awesome. I did a lot of work last year on getting ready for this, giving up habits that were nonsense, gaining ones that are full of sense. I was ready to tackle the whole thing this year and joining in OLW has massively helped. I am a few weeks in and it is going better than I hoped. Part of this is the practice so your post really rang my bell. I watched Dr Ivan Joseph on TED talk about Repetition last week as well. I also subscribe to the 10000 hours notion too, so yeah, I think you are spot on that it is good to take the steps and good to build and much more rewarding and sustainable in the long term. Have a great week :-)

    Reply 0 Replies
  5. abeatty says…

    This past year, I started a new teaching job at a different school and I started Cross Fit. I am 40 years old. I have never been much of an athlete (I run & bike, but never did weightlifting, even back in my young days). These two activities broadened my circle this year, and Cross Fit has definitely left me as a beginner again. Fortunately, I have great coaches and the other participants are very community oriented (no one cleans up their own stuff until everyone is done the workout...they stand around you and cheer you on!). I am finding the experience awesome and frustrating. Sometimes I walk away feeling elated and strong; sometimes frustrated and weak. And at 40, I many times feel I am too old for it (learning 110 new student names, plus faculty this year...Whoa!), but I am really glad to be trying!
    Good luck to you and your new experiences this year!

    Reply 0 Replies
  6. PolkaDotCreative says…

    It has been 12 years since I practiced yoga. I began when I lived in California for three years. Now, after over a decade, after 4 children, a separation and relocation back to Australia I am revisiting yoga, taking myself back to beginner status and learning everything all over again. Learning as who I am now - a 38 year old 'girl' who's little body has given birth to four babes and endured a whole lot of stress, particularly in the last few years, as opposed to the young 23 year old who thought it would be 'cool' to give yoga a go. This time around I am looking for much deeper things with the maturity that I don't have to know it all, that I don't have to be an expert and that I am there to impress no-one else but little ol' me. Here's to trying new, or revisiting old, things - and to embracing these things one small step by one small step at a time.

    Reply 0 Replies
  7. SusanBowers says…

    I got a Silhouette for Christmas but only the machine so I'm in beginners mode literally. In fact, I have no idea what exactly I do need to even begin - beginning. Any suggestions.

    Reply 0 Replies
  8. AmberCA says…

    Totally awesome post. Hit me right where I am right now. I am learning new skills and evolving and developing artisticly every day. One foot in front of the other. One step closer everyday.

    Reply 0 Replies
  9. helenhigh says…

    This may sound a little odd, but I am beginning again with scrap booking. I've always had a love for paper and have always had great ideas about how to make things pretty. I never thought I was "good enough" to do anything concentrated like drawing or painting, but I liked paper and stickers and at that time it was enough for me. Sometime around 2002, I started hearing more and more about scrap booking. I avoided it because I didn't want to spend the money on yet another thing(s) that would just sit and collect dust. By 2005, I took the plunge and was doing a little bit here and a little bit there. I quickly realized that scrap booking is not the best thing to do alone and I had no one that I knew that enjoyed this hobby that much. Fast forward to 2012 when my husband and I moved to the suburbs. By coincidence, I met a woman on the train that scrap booked and we have been good friends since. She had friends who scrap book and I am not a part of a group of wonderful ladies that enjoy this hobby as much as me. I even went on my first retreat this last summer, then one in the fall and we are planning another for this summer. I am beginning again because they have exposed me to so many things about scrapping include the Cricut which I LOVE. I got my own a year ago and it still makes me happy to create things with it. I was nervous being with these ladies, but because of them, I've started scrapping a lot more and am working the perfect my digital scrap booking and card making skills. It's an exciting time for me!

    Reply 0 Replies
  10. TracyBzz says…

    I had the desire to learn to crochet. Sadly my Grandma's eyesight isn't good enough anymore to teach me. So I turned the interwebs and through blogs and especially You Tube videos I figured out how to crochet. I've done 3 baby blankets, one couch blanket, more than a dozen big chunky scarves and am now working on a 10 shades of blue blanket for myself. I love it so much. Can't wait to keep learning - try new patterns and colour combinations.

    Reply 0 Replies
  11. pmmessner says…

    i can totally relate to this post for many reasons...
    love the idea of "learning"... but sometimes i do feel like i put pressure on myself to just "know how" or "be better" from the start.

    i will remember this post and just let myself focus on the "new" the "experience"...
    thanks again ali for the thought evoking post!

    Reply 0 Replies
  12. ThePRMummy says…

    I have three daughters and i'm forever juggling life here in the UK between work, Rainbows, football, trampolining, ballet, gymnastics, recorders... My kids owe me big time! I'm worn out. I like watching them grow and taking an interest in something new and something skilled. Well done for going ahead to the pottery. It looks fun. x

    Reply 0 Replies
  13. Juliannph says…

    When I was 54, I started taking drum lessons. I did a few months on the djembe (an African hand drum) and then moved to the drum set after my son-in-law asked to keep a set at our house and suggested the switch. It was, and still is, one of the hardest things I have ever done. I have to practice a lot to keep up with my lessons even after 5 years. Every few months I plan to quit but I haven't because I know it is in the hard work of learning something new that I feel alive.

    Reply 0 Replies
  14. Cozilla11 says…

    I just started a class for screen printing and I was so worried because it's a graphic design class and I'm not a graphic design major and I was worried the class would be too hard. And it's pretty hard, but it's also really different than anything else I get to do for class. Screen printing has quite a learning curve, but that's true for everyone, I just had to let go of of expectations of my posters being perfect (screen printing never is) and embrace the process and the messiness. So far it's been super fun and I'm excited to start our next project.

    Reply 0 Replies
  15. scrap_horse says…

    About 6 years ago I was an adult beginner in Tae Kwon Do (with my family). It was a little hard to be around kids who were so much more experienced and advanced, but everyone was so great that it really was no big deal (it was an ATA school). I worked at it for four years and was one of my best experiences!

    I am now a beginner at running a household with kids by myself. The area where we live now still feels new and in many ways I suppose I feel like a beginner, and I'm sure I'll continue to discover areas that I am starting over/beginning again. I hadn't thought of it that way until reading your post, now I have a scrapbook layout idea! Thanks!

    Reply 0 Replies

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