Years ago, I directed programs for kids at the Center for Talent Development at Northwestern University. What we understood from experience and research is that no child is born gifted or pre-determined for a specific trajectory. Passion, talent and goals form into gifts, and those are slowly and incrementally discovered through play, exploration, curiosity, joy of learning - and also perseverance, dedication, community, mentorship, nurturance and guidance.
We understood that human brains are experience-dependent and malleable according to the people and conditions that surround them. We also understood that when a student is very skilled in one area, it can occasionally become their identity to be really-good-at-that-thing. This is great for confidence. But... because social reward hormones are so powerful, there are times when people have difficulties not being good at something. The lack of approval and admiration can feel uncomfortable and distressing.
Sometimes this can be motivating... but other times - if the identity of being the best at something is very strong and tied to those social approvals and rewards - a person may stop trying new things because they are afraid of looking inferior. So they end up sticking only to what they know. That's not a bad thing necessarily. Persistence is important for talent development: we need to spend a lot of time and depth on skills and exposure to truly hone our talents.
The challenge, however, is that if we attach our identity on getting so good at something we no longer make mistakes or we only seek out ways to present that we are the expert, or the best within a group, we may not push ourselves to our highest limits because those higher levels or new skills would require us to enter a realm where we are not good at something.
A different approach is to allow our identity to be one of a constant learner. This requires us to love ourselves as beginners. A beginner can mean advancing to a higher level of something, where we know we will no longer be the best or most experienced. It can also mean venturing into a completely new type of skill, environment or paradigm - where we are truly a beginner.
I love the idea of beginner mindset because it takes the view that not being well-versed in something, even being clumsy and awkward... are signs of a BEGINNING. A beginning is exciting. It's the entry point, the bouncing-off-place for new worlds to open, new adventures, new forms of mastery waiting to be cultivated over a long period of dedication, vulnerability and openness.
It takes the idea of making mistakes or not-knowing from being a sign of weakness or failure, and flips it into something we can feel excited about even if there are still feelings of nervousness or doubt.
To develop our talents, we need to nurture them over many, many years. We need to put in that work towards depth and mastery so we can craft and hone those skills into our own unique creations and expressions. But... to really optimize those talents, we also need to expand our horizons and find ever-new ways for how they can be applied.
This requires us to push ourselves to learn completely new things. When we do that, we get the chance to feel that beginner mindset, and the vulnerability that comes with it. This helps our brain-body circuits associate not-knowing with growth instead of weakness - which then leads to neurochemical rewards for us to take on more challenges and learning journeys.
I’m learning so many new things right now, which brings with it a feeling of vulnerability… reminding myself that feeling like a beginner is because I am in a place of new beginnings helps me to feel excited about this continued, never-ending journey of learning and evolving.
With Love from Me to You
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