Live, Play, Shoot

The Art of Being a Beginner

September 10, 2015
The start of my first burro race. Excited and scared.

I will never forget the day that I told my husband I was going to race donkeys.

“I called a donkey trainer,” I said. “I’m meeting him on Saturday.”

He shot me a dumbfounded look.

“You’re doing what? You’re meeting who? Do you know anything about donkeys?”

They were reasonable questions. My interest in burro racing came virtually out of nowhere and my experience with donkeys was barely more than nothing. I knew which end was the front end and which end was the back end and to avoid any flying hooves but that was about the extent of it. As I drove to the trainer’s house on that fateful Saturday afternoon I wondered what in the hell I was doing. Was I crazy? Was all of this crazy?

The answer to that question, of course, is yes. But that’s not the point of this. The point is that I was a beginner in the truest sense of the word. And it was exhilarating.

Being new at anything is hard and scary. You don’t know what you’re doing or where you’re going. You don’t speak the lingo. You hear terms like gaper and Fred and you don’t really know what they mean but you know that they’re not good. You kind of want to hide. You definitely don’t want to look like a fool.

Here’s the thing about being a beginner: There’s a really good chance that you are going to suck.

And the other thing about being a beginner? Sucking is ok.

I was at a writing class last year and the wise woman that was teaching said magical words that have stuck with me ever since: You’re never going to be worse at this than you are right now. She was talking about pitching to magazines but the principle applies to a lot of things in life. And while it sounds like a Debbie Downer of a statement, there is a lot of freedom in it.

You might suck now, but that’s ok. You’ll only get better from here.

When you’re a newb at something the expectations are set firmly at rock bottom. No one expects you to be good. No one thinks you know more than you do. This applies to things like hiking and mountain biking and climbing and skiing but it also applies to writing and photography. It relates to starting a new job or raising a family. It applies to anything that is something that you haven’t done before or haven’t been doing for long.

So embrace it. Enjoy being a goofy beginner that stumbles and falls. Go over the bars. Forget to unclip at a stop sign and topple over in front of an audience. Yard sale in the snow and then pick yourself up, make sure all appendages are intact, and then laugh your ass off. Take bad pictures. Write bad stories. Tell the voices in your head to shut the hell up (this is just Resistance) and keep soldiering on. You’ll be embarrassed and awkward. But you’ll also get better.

This conversation is relevant to me as I prepare to embark on my second year of snowboarding. I spent most of last year falling on my face (and, more often, my ass) in the snow. I crawled down green runs and suffered through those painful first days when the simple act of getting off the chairlift seemed like a Herculean task. I’m a little better now, but not by much. I have a long way to go.

And I’m embracing the awkwardness.

When was the last time you were a beginner at something? Any advice for other newbs? I want to hear your stories!

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