On Being (and Remaining) a Beginner


I came home from BlissDom with a lot of books, and the one I read first was the one I got last, Jon Acuff’s Start. (The title made me do it.) It hasn’t been released yet but they did a special printing for BlissDom, which made us all feel special. start jon acuff

This isn’t really a review of the book, though I did enjoy it. It’s all about the path to awesome/mastery that we can choose to take over and over again in our lives, whether with our jobs, our hobbies, our families, whatever we do. He sets out distinct stages that we go through when mastering something — learning, editing, mastering, harvesting and guiding. When we all worked the same job our whole lives, these stages corresponded to decades of life, but they don’t any more. You can be a master at age 30 or still learning at age 80 (let’s hope we’re all still learning at age 80).

And that’s really what I want to talk about: the need to constantly be learning and the peril of calling yourself, or thinking of yourself, as an expert.

The only thing I might call myself an expert at is surviving on little sleep, and I’m pretty out of practice on that one. I may be pretty good at knitting — and have been writing about it for money for six years — but there are still whole genres of knitting projects I’ve never tried (two notable ones: intricate lace shawls and gloves). Does that mean I’m not an expert? I don’t know. I’m certain I wasn’t an expert when I started writing about knitting. Not even close.

(Even though it’s kind of smartass, this infographic says it actually only takes 5,760 hours to become an expert knitter, rather than the requisite 10,000. Which is about two and half hours a day over the six years I’ve been a knitting pro. So maybe I am an expert.)

cross stitch
I am still a beginner when it comes to cross stitch, but I’m kind of loving it.

Now I write about other crafts, too, and I’m firmly in the land of learning when it comes to a lot of them. Cross stitch. Painting. Mixed media. Crochet. None of these have I dedicated much time or effort to, but I’m excited to learn and to share with you while I’m doing so.

Just because you’re still learning doesn’t mean you can’t also guide (Acuff says it better when he says the only qualification you need for guiding is to be one step ahead of someone else), but it would be a lie to say I’m a craft expert, or an expert in any one of those crafts.

Don’t be an “Expert”

I guess my point is that the word expert and associated nouns (guru, ninja and other nonsense) are way overused when the truth is everyone is learning all the time and few of us really rise to the level of master.

And that’s OK. Learning is good. You don’t have to know everything. In fact, admitting you don’t know everything is half the battle. It’s a way of admitting that you’re human, and people — the kind of people I want to read my stuff, anyway — will respect that and be attracted to it.

marie forleo quote I don’t want to learn from someone who thinks they know everything, because they’re probably boring, think they’re better than everyone else and they’re not learning new things so they won’t “know everything” for very long, anyway.

Of course it’s important to both acknowledge the not knowing and to do something about it. Just sitting in the not knowing doesn’t do anyone any good, and it doesn’t make for very interesting blog reading, either.

We should all be learning, constantly, as much as we can about whatever our chosen subject is. If you want to be awesome, you must work and learn and improve all the time.

Hope that Sounds Good

If what you want to be awesome about is really your thing, that will excite you rather than terrify (or worse, bore) you. That could actually be a really good test of whether you’ve found your thing. Do you want to study and learn and practice for 10,000 hours or more?

I love the feeling of having a lot to explore in the world of craft and the understanding that I’m going to be learning for a long, long time. It may not really take those mystical 10,000 hours, but it will take a long time. For me or for anyone.

If more people would acknowledge that, and not declare themselves gurus before their time, I think the world — certainly the online world — would be a better place.

I am a proud and happy resident of the land of learning, and I hope I always am. I certainly do my share of guiding, and occasionally take vacations in the land of harvesting, but I am always eager to return to learning. I think that’s part of what keeps you young and enthusiastic about life.

In writing this post I’ve found a lot of fun stuff about becoming an expert that I’m sure I’ll share once I’ve had time to read and think about it all.

But one site I stumbled on that I’d never seen before was Expert Enough, which has lots of great stuff on the idea of mastery and making the effort to practice and get better and learn. They also have a manifesto, which is what I’ll leave you with today. I’d love to hear your thoughts on becoming an expert, the 10,000 hour “rule,” the land of learning or whatever else is on your mind today. expert enough manifesto

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