I have made a lot of new beginnings this past year, and especially the last three months. “New Beginnings” sounds so hopeful, like it should grace the cover of a 99¢ greeting card. It’s a phrase full of bland optimism evoking a vaguely better-ish tomorrow.

The problem with “New Beginnings” (when they are yours) is that a New Beginning requires a New Beginner. Being a new beginner, frankly, sucks. If you’d like to see a vivid example of life as a new beginner, observe the bunny slope at your nearest ski resort. Hats and scarves are strewn on the ground, legs and skis are hopelessly entangled, faces are in trees. Being a new beginner is brutal.

The only upside of being a new beginner is that in time you won’t be one. That is, you will learn and get better (or you will quit, or you will die). Eventually you will be zipping down the slopes, enjoying the crisp winter air, having totally forgotten about the dislocated shoulder and the three cracked teeth. Eventually eventually, you will have mastered the skill and you will look down from the peak, confident in your abilities, the king of the mountain. But the Summit of Mastery can only be reached by first journeying through the Valley of the Shadow of Beginning.

Everyone knows you have to start somewhere when you want to learn a new skill. But being a beginner is hard because it challenges our self-image. We like to think of ourselves as competent, capable people. And when we begin to learn a new skill, suddenly we feel like incompetent, bumbling idiots. I think the trick to persevering through the learning curve is managing our internal self-talk.

A few months ago I started learning computer programming in a language called C# (pronounced “See Sharp”). After a couple weeks of fruitless attempts to get my program to work, the voice inside my head was saying “You are an idiot. You are a talentless hack. You can’t even get this SUPER simple program to run. You will never succeed.” I mean, maybe it wasn’t that dramatic, but that was sort of the idea. Now from an outside point of view that’s ridiculous. I hadn’t suddenly become stupid and incompetent, I was just a newbie with two weeks of computer programming experience.

If you’re doing something new, or learning a new skill, it’s really great to have people around you who can help you see yourself from that outside perspective. Rob is a wonderful encourager, and as he sees me struggle through new problems he’s always telling me I’m doing great, and that I’m getting better, and that what I’m trying to do would be tough for anyone to learn. Friends like that are invaluable to keep you moving forward when you’re starting something new.

I opened this blog post with a trite phrase, so I’d like to close with a clichéd quotation, which bears repeating (apparently it bears repeating about 477 million times, according to my Google search results):

“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!”
Incorrectly attributed to  Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Happy New Year, and here’s to many valiant beginnings.

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