What Adults Obsessed with Achievement Can Learn from Becoming Beginners Again

As adults in an achievement-based society, we can learn a lot about cultivating joy and presence when we humble ourselves, step outside of our comfort zone, and become beginners again.

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One of the great joys of being around children is watching them explore, curious about everything, beginners at life. It starts with walking. They don’t get it right the first time or even the fiftieth. Lots of kids find creative ways around it, like sliding on their bums, and when they finally do get up to their feet there’s lots of wobbling and falling. 

They take the same approach to drawing, dancing, writing, and other creative endeavors. And at those early ages they aren’t limited by the quality of the result. There’s no embarrassment that the scribbles don’t really resemble Fido. No self-consciousness when they wiggle their bodies to music wondering how they will be perceived. They find joy in the doing and we celebrate with them.

Why is it that as we grow up, we lose the curiosity and willingness to be a beginner?

In a society like the U.S., we are driven by success and achievement. We are a society of “getting it right,” and “constant improvement.” Many of us, myself included, are swept up in the ideals of perfectionism–which we know are not only damaging to our own psyche but create oppressive cultures in our minds, homes, and workplaces.

Overtime, we become more and more specialized and fear deviating from “our lane.” We become unfamiliar with what it’s like to be a beginner, what it’s like to be really bad at something, and lose touch with the curiosity and joy we had in creating as children.

As an achiever and someone unlearning perfectionism myself, this has been crucial to rediscover in my adult life. 

I started with ceramics. 

I had never taken a ceramics class before and quickly learned I am not great at working with clay. My first class at a local community center left me with two VERY heavy bowls that look nothing alike. Overtime, I’ve gotten a bit better but I am far from “good.” 

Even so, I have spent hours at the wheel with my hands covered in clay getting back in touch with a sense of joy, mindfulness, and presence. And it gives me great pleasure to eat out of my imperfect bowls. 

When I saw that the world didn’t end when I wasn’t good at something, I tried more new things.

I wrote a children’s book.

I don’t have a degree in English literature. I don’t have kids right now. It was something I’ve always wanted to do. My first draft wasn’t great. It was way too long for a picture book and used words that were too advanced. But I enjoyed the process of writing it and I have thoroughly enjoyed the process of failing, revising, and learning. 

Then, I planted a garden.

I don’t have a particularly green thumb. I don’t know the pH of my soil. Some plants did well and others did not. I must have planted upwards of 30 tomato seeds and not-a-one has made it to the point of harvest. But it’s been thoroughly enjoyable to get my hands dirty and, sometimes, to have fresh basil and parsley for my cooking.

I have achieved a lot in my professional life and enjoy and find meaning in my work. And now, I also make time each week to be a beginner.

Sometimes I discover a passion and decide to develop my skills over time as was the case for my children’s book. Other times, it’s a practice in imperfection like my lop-sided bowls and fruitless tomato plants.

It keeps me humble and reminds me that real joy doesn’t necessarily come from success or achievement. It comes from mindful presence and a healthy relationship with failure

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