How To Be A Beginner

The Secrets to Perseverance

How To Be A Beginner
Artwork by Karthik Srinivas @


I want to talk about being a beginner, because it is the unavoidable path to growth.

Before we dive into that, here are 3 random and fun things for you:

  1. 🔎 Preview is a default app on the Mac that most people forget about. It's actually a useful app. Here are 10 tips to make the most out of it.
  2. 🌿 64 days into the Shanghai lockdown, nature decides to surprise and delight us. #Solarpunk
h/t Rainer Becker

3. A quote that enlivened me:

"Perseverance with no signal is a fool's errand." @Daniel Vassallo

Grit is important, but be sure when you grind you are also constantly reviewing and improving.

Why is Being a Beginner So Hard?

There is always something we can work on to #bossbetter.

  • Listen more, speak less
  • Nudge more, direct less
  • Orchestrate more, manage less

But it's hard to begin and try something we are not good at.

It is hard to learn to shut up and listen more during a one on one conversation. It is hard to use questions to nudge the team instead of telling them what they should do during a weekly meeting.

At the same time, you know that in order to improve, you need to grind it out. You know being a beginner is the path to growth. But it is painful to be a beginner.

When I first became a manager, I wanted to give fewer suggestions and ask more questions. As I began to work on this skill, the feedback I received was I used the word "why" too much. Whenever I "started with why," I made others feel threatened and challenged. Worse, I tended to ask why multiple times, because I thought it was a good approach to digging into the core of issues and to exploring our hidden motivations. I believed it was a way to tap into the first principles of all problems. But the opposite side disagreed.

So I tried. I tried to not use why. I tried "what do you mean" or "tell me more about" or "help me understand." But I struggled. I was also annoyed. I didn't believe I needed to adjust my probing. I thought those who needed such tender questioning were weak. "What a wimp!" I would quietly complain. I continued to struggle with this practice. I was unhappy with remaining a beginner.

Then one day, I stumbled upon an interview of the legendary journalist / podcaster Ira Glass. He spent years doing the same thing - interviewing and producing audio programs. He was terrible for many years. In another interview, he played some of his old tapes, and they were terrible. But he kept at it for years.

I would like to share with you his description of being a beginner. To me, his explanation was life changing. It helped me persevere. I hope you would find this useful and continue to be a beginner on whatever you are working on, from being a better boss to being a better cook.

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me.
All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.

A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work.

Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met.
It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”


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Thank you for reading this. I think about leadership & psychology in the showers. I know it's odd, but these topics are important and fun. I hope you find them useful too.

Work diligently. You are bound to be successful.