Humility When Starting Out

By  | 

As a general rule novitiates in any discipline think they are much more skilled than they actually are. This is due to the often overlooked philosophical reality that we can’t know what we don’t know. How can I realize that I am lacking when I have no frame of reference to compare myself against?

Those who have achieved mastery in a discipline sometimes have to remind themselves that beginners don’t know any better to not lose their composure when they hear comments demeaning all the hard work and time they have put in, making what they have done seem very easy.

If you are just beginning your journey, it’s impossible to know what you don’t yet know, but there is a pretty simple way to cut through illusion and realize that you have a very long way to go. If there are many levels of expertise in the discipline and if on average achieving mastery takes many years, you can assume the same will be true for you. We are prone to overrate our own talents and abilities. Psychological studies have shown that time and time again, people and organizations believe they will achieve what they have set out to do much more quickly than the average, but the vast majority prove to be mistaken since they all make up that average.

There is a very good reason to maintain your humility from the get go, and it’s that you protect yourself from disappointment and from feeling compelled to quit when you realize you are not nearly as good as you thought you were. This is the period where people are most likely to give up. A sinking feeling of incompetence skirts at the edge of conscious awareness, and rather than allow preconceived notions to be shattered they quit and come up with a plausible rationalization for why. This strategy keeps their egos from being bruised but also keeps them from ever getting really good at anything.

You can keep that powerful beginner’s mind going throughout your journey instead, realizing that you are exactly where you need to be at every step of the process. Anything worth doing takes years of dedication if you want to reach the promised land and achieve mastery. You won’t be upset when you find out you have a long way to go because you will have recognized the fact from the very beginning.