When you’re just starting out at an endeavor you don’t feel complacent, you feel motivated. You have what Thich Nhat Hanh calls beginner’s mind. You’re not afraid to make mistakes or look foolish in front of others, in part because you’re so excited about trying something new and in part because you’re not yet really capable of comparing your own limited skill set to more advanced practitioners so you don’t feel embarrassed about your limitations.
It’s a great mentality to have and you’ll usually find yourself improving by leaps and bounds, similar to a child learning how to walk who falls down over and over again only to get back up and try again with no shame or disappointment. It’s once you start to achieve some competence in your area of focus that complacency usually sets in. You find yourself less likely to take risks, less likely to keep pushing beyond your comfort zone where growth and failure occur in equal measures.
It’s almost like Adam and Eve becoming aware of themselves after eating from the tree of knowledge and suddenly feeling ashamed of their nakedness. Once you get a little better at something you start to worry more about what others think because you’re more aware of yourself and what you’re doing. Strangely you might also worry more about how you perceive yourself. You want to be seen as competent in what you’re doing and you realize that when you push things to the edge the narrative others might form of you is of someone who often fails and makes mistakes, even though the truth is that you could easily do it perfectly but in a slightly less difficult way. The only way to keep getting better is to keep pushing yourself, a place where failure and mistakes are guaranteed.
The solution is to try to always cultivate that beginner’s mind, wherever you are in the continuum, to remind yourself that the childlike attitude of getting right back up after falling down without any shame or disappointment is your ticket to gaining mastery quickly while also making the journey a lot more fun and a lot less stressful.