It’s okay to be a novice.

According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary a novice is “a person new to or inexperienced in a field or situation.”  It is derived – like many words in the English language – from the ancient Romans – latin Novicius.  Back then it generally referred to newly imported slaves who had to be trained in his or her duties.  I’m glad the slave bit has been forgotten.  It just makes learning something new seem so very involuntary, so imposed, so miserable.  Something to be avoided at all cost.  Who wants to be a slave to anything?

But to be ‘new to’ or ‘inexperienced’ – totally fine with me.  In fact, I believe being a novice at something is something we should wholeheartedly embrace. It’s how we grow.  It’s how we become a better version of ourselves. 

Curiosity and judgement are intimately intertwined with being a novice.  Curiosity is helpful, judgement, perhaps not so much.  Curiosity – defined as ‘the desire to know’, opens the mind to new ways of thinking.  Judgement, in my experience, closes the mind to new ways of thinking.  Interestingly, judgement – defined as ‘the process of forming an opinion’, should not close our minds.  It’s the process of forming an opinion.  Unfortunately, we often skip the ‘process’ and skip to our preconceived default notions.  “I am not good enough.”  “I cannot do this.”  “This is too hard.” 

If we were to actually follow a “process” to “form an opinion,” I’d be okay with judgement.  But our brain is lazy and takes the quick route – we already figured this out and…. “It’s too hard…” “Too expensive….” “Too whatever.” 

Our brilliant brain – being efficient, with its outdated software, is unintentionally sabotaging our own growth. It’s a thought error.  This is so good to know because thought errors can be corrected.  

I am a novice.  In fact, I am a damn fine novice – I can persist despite prolonged periods of minimal progress.  I decided to study cello almost three years ago and still I remain a novice.  My impatience percolates to the surface now and again.  “Seriously, I’ve been at this for three years, when am I going to get proficient?”  Fortunately, I have a cello teacher with more patience than Job, and he smiles encouragingly “focus on the process, not the result….  The results will follow.”   Yes, yes, process… but it’s so out of tune… yes, yes, process… But…. But… No buts.  It’s okay to be a novice. 

Truth is I am having a blast learning cello.  I absolutely love it, even if I am out of tune and my rendition of Bach sounds like a wounded moose stuck in a swamp. 

(For the record it takes about 10,000 hours to become proficient at anything – if I practice one hour a day every day of the year, in just under 27 years I will be proficient.  And just over 80. Perfect.  I am in!)

It’s okay to be a novice.  But you need a process.  Without a process our brain takes the automatic ‘this-is-too-hard-what-are-you-thinking’ default.  Be a novice with a process.  But not just any old process.  A process that loops through the same mistake over and over again is not helpful.  One year of experience 20 times begets a very different result than 20 years of experience.  It’s important that your process includes a reassess/tweak trigger to avoid meaningless loops.  My weekly cello lesson is my tweak trigger. 

So, it’s totally awesome to be a novice.  Be curious.  Avoid judgement.  Have a process with a tweak trigger.   Wholeheartedly embrace it, and you can’t help but have a great life.

Buff it up, my friends
Dr Karen

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