Had you asked me in high school what it was like to not specialize in an activity, I would have told you I felt like an untalented outsider. Watching my friends excel in their area of interest was often difficult for me: I wanted to try it all, but wasn’t very good at much. From C-team MVP to JV co-captain, I was the best of the worst, solely because I was hungry to discover my talent. I made mistakes loudly. My confidence earned me space.
In adulthood, that ability and eagerness to remain a beginner has opened more doors for me than I would imagine in youth. To an outsider, it may appear my resume is scattered, I make erratic purchases, or that I’m physically dangerous. In reality, I’m just curious. To me, an inherent need to explore and join new communities helps me live curiously and practice balance between effort and released attachment. Where my high school self was an ashamed beginner, I touch base with my novice identity daily.
In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, effort, non-attachment, and surrender ideally exist in perfect balance. However, in today’s world, most of us tend to lean into one of those categories much more than the other. Let’s rewind again to who I was in high school: an affluent high-achiever with a chip on her shoulder who wanted to succeed to prove people wrong. Unfortunately, effort wasn’t high on my to-do list. I was deeply, deeply attached to outcomes, and through this became manipulative and unsteady instead of putting the real work in. My lack of the aforementioned specialization was a product of dissatisfaction with failure. If I tested the waters and wasn’t “naturally good” at something, I was unwilling to put in the social, emotional, physical, and intellectual effort to explore it. As a teenager, I leaned into unhealthy attachment to results: I wanted to be the best without living like the best. I could not surrender with contentment to the results the universe gave or put in the effort to manifest an ideal path.
Most adults still operate in this heavily unbalanced space, finding comfort in pushing (or not pushing) in one of those areas throughout life. Perhaps they give too much effort and deplete themselves, or perhaps they participate in unhealthy “surrender to the universe” to displace accountability. Sadly, many careers and an entire ecosystem of consumerism voraciously feeds on this imbalance, plunging us deeper into discord. To break this cycle, start living like the beginner you are.
The perpetual beginner understands our world is in flux always, and surfs on that wave. Sometimes it overtakes us, but we hop back on the board instead of burning up outside of the water. Whether you choose to try a new mindset or try a new sport, I invite you to be a beginner at something this week.
Surrender to the vulnerabilities of newness. Give effort to understand. Unclench your fist from outcome. The perpetual beginner softens.