The beginner’s biggest threat
I’m facing a threat these days. I call it the beginner’s threat.
It says: “I can’t compete. I don’t measure up.”
If you want to create things and make a difference in the world, you’ll face it too, whether you think of yourself as a beginner or not. Hey, it even plagues many celebrated pros, who seem to have never surmounted it.
It starts when you’re a newbie, like I am these days.
First I’m new at blogging. I’ve written many things over the years: short stories, novels, librettis, adaptations, non-fiction books, magazine articles… But I’ve never written in a blog format.
Second, writing in English is a whole different ballgame than writing in French, my mother tongue. Feels like I’m in elementary school with this English thing.
Third, I’ve been making a living online for five years or so, but I’ve never published a blog on a domain that bears my name, on topics that are as dear to my heart, in such a personal and exposing way, in such a genre.
Finally, I’ve been coaching people in person and over the phone, here and there, for a year and a half — but I’ve never presented myself publicly as a coach. Beginner again here.
That means I have a whole lot to learn and integrate and apply. And it also means I’m facing the beginner’s biggest threat:
The crippling sense that I don’t measure up, and can’t compete
What do we do when we set out on a new venture or explore new territories? We look up at role models, people who’ve already achieved what we want. Writers whose books are piling up on the center displays in the bookstore. Actors whose face are splashed out on huge posters all over town. Bloggers in the top 50, athletes at the Olympics, entrepreneurs who are on everyone’s lips.
Even if we look at more discrete players, those who experience great success in our field but haven’t reached celebrity status just yet, we’re still looking up. They have it, and we don’t.
Unless you’re self-deluded, or have already reached the stage of mastery in your craft, you’ll find plenty of examples of people who have a definite and clear advantage over you. Especially now that we live in a hyperconnected, globalized world. And even more if your field has a low barrier of entry.
Look at those stars… then look at you. They’re better at it than you are, aren’t they? They’re more experienced. They have a bigger network. They have access to more resources. They’re more intelligent. They’re less screwed up. They’re more talented, sexier, meaner. Whatever.
They’re so clearly not like you.
No way you’re going to be able to compete or measure up.
You’ve lost the game before it even began.
Talk about depressing. Talk about demotivating. Talk about feeling the sudden urge to go wash the dishes or go back to bed.
We’ve been told countless times that comparing ourselves to others is futile, detrimental. Yet we still do it.
Because we believe this is how we will succeed
Because we believe it is the only way we can ever find out how to succeed. How to get the keys, learn the secrets, figure out what to do and what not to do.
We start with the assumption that we don’t have it, and that we must acquire what we lack from the outside.
Well, this is partly true. You DO have a huge number of things to learn and internalize in order to become great at whatever you do. And the best way to do that is to learn it from those who already master what you want to master.
“Success leaves cues”, “learn from the masters”, so the sayings go — so we go and watch the pros in order to learn from them. Since they’re already where we want to go.
There’s just a problem here, and it makes us fall into the deadliest of traps. The problem is, we don’t just learn from what they do. We start to look for, AND NOTICE, all the ways in which they differ from us. All the ways in which they have it and we don’t. And we start to look for ways to stop being ourselves — our flawed, imperfect, unenlightened, clumsly self — and become like them.
They become a solution to our problem.
We’ve switched out of the “learning” and “creating” mode and fell into a “problem-solving” mode.
Because we do have a problem now, are we? We’re not just beginners at something, we’re someone with a “beginning” problem. We’re someone with a “flawed me” problem.
And instead of feeling inspired when we look at the giants, we feel alone and small. Very small.
Because the problem we’re faced with is truly intractable.
“I can’t write like Don de Lillo.” No, you can’t.
“I’m no Steve Pavlina.” No, you’re not.
“I don’t have the coaching and life experience of Steve Chandler.” No, you don’t.
Having mentors is a necessity to develop and grow. Trying to absorb their experience and learn from them is fine and good. But as we look at them, we seem to forget that what we’re watching is not only them getting better and better at what they do; it’s also them being on a path of becoming who they fully are.
Have you noticed? The masters in your field are really excelling at two things:
They show up as who they are.
There’s much more to mastery and success than becoming technically great. Much more than learning the ropes and developing the connections.
A big part of mastery is to learn to shed away all the layers of not-youness. To become who you really are so you express yourself fully without pretense. To get out of your own way — so that the creative impulse in you can do its thing unencumbered.
This is not something we can learn by mimicking and trying to become like the masters we’re emulating. If we do the same thing they did to become who they are, we could only become… who they are.
Which is, uh, not likely to happen.
So it’s not that you don’t measure up. It’s not that you “can’t compete”.
It’s that you can’t be others. You can’t walk their walk.
You can only be you.
Comparing yourself to others shuts down your capacity to create. It leads you down a path of endless misery and frustration. It will cause you to stop listening and acting on what is truly unique to you. It will turn you away from being a true apprentice and into an imitator, a follower, and most probably into an alienated, depressed procrastinator.
(Hint: if you’re already an alienated, depressed procrastinator, what I just explained is very likely one of the biggest reasons.)
So, yes, success leaves cues, and you can learn from those that preceded you… but only if you use the cues to walk on your own path and go your own way.
How to become an apprentice without comparing yourself
So how can you stand as a true apprentice (one that learns from the best), without falling into the trap of comparing yourself to those you learn from?
First, there’s one thing you can definitely copy, and it’s your mentor’s overall strategy:
Show up as who you are and shed everything else.
And do these two things simultaneously, even if “being yourself” doesn’t bear impressive fruits at first, when you’re still learning the ropes and struggling with the techniques.
Drop the whole “measuring up” and competition notion. Especially if you’re in a so-called competitive environment. Competitive means it’s even more important to transcend the competitive mindset. Focusing on competition is just another way to stay in a “problem-solving” mode instead of a creative mode. You’ll be the one losing out in the end.
Focus instead on what wants to be uniquely expressed through you. Focus on what you can contribute.
Ask yourself: “Now that I know that I won’t ever be like those people… What would I like? What would I love to create? What wants to be created through me?”
That requires you to stop listening to other people, stop looking for cues and answers in the outside world, and start to listen very carefully to the little voice inside. Not all the time, of course. But at least some time every day. So you get better at hearing and deciphering what that voice has to say. And you get better at allowing it to make its sounds.
Even if you still feel partly clueless. Even if everything you produce at first is clumsly, schematic, not at all like you envisioned.
Even if it makes you feel dumb. Even if it makes you feel like nobody will be able to love someone who makes shit like that.
Now, the next step is to become aware of the patterns that come into play the minute you start paying attention to that little voice, the minute you start acting on it.
The sense of being sick to your stomach.
The desire to avoid the work.
The impulse to do everything but reveal yourself in what you do.
The shakiness, the deep-seated fear that grips you even before you start to act in an authentic way.
And then you have to question those fears, and learn to clear them up. Because they restrict both your ability to master your craft (how could you spend the thousands of hours requested if you procrastinate?) and your ability to show up as who you are.
Your mission is to learn to get out of your way.
I’ll elaborate later on specific ways to go past the fears of being rejected and criticized and not-loved — not just learn to cope with them and do our work in spite of them, but actually deactivate these fears and stop being subjected to them. I have very cool stuff to share on that. Stay tuned…
No time required
Mastering a craft does take time and effort. It is a lifelong pursuit, a never ending learning and growth process.
But showing up as who I am, no more no less, and focusing on being authentic doesn’t require time. I can get into it right now if I’m really up to. Even if it just means being open about my own current limitations, my odd quirks.
Snapping out of a “problem-solving” mindset and into a “creative expression” mindset doesn’t take time. Just awareness. And some guts to say “Hello, my name is Yan Muckle and this is what I want to share with you now.”
It doesn’t require effort, or struggle. It requires that I relax into my own truth and allow it to shine through whatever I do in the moment, however “imperfect” it shows up.
The beautiful thing is that, from that moment on, I know that other people won’t be able to “compete” with me. They just can’t.