I've been a self-employed Professional Creative Person and teaching artist for 20 years. I've mostly taught individual singing lessons (kids ages 10-18 and adults). I've also done songwriting workshops in public and private schools, taught executives to improve their public speaking, and coached many people through their creative works. This year I started ADMC Creative, my consulting and coaching company, for people who want to make meaningful personal works and huge public triumphs with their creativity (email me for rates and information).
You could say that I've devoted my entire life to helping people with their creative endeavors. This is a sacred privilege that I take seriously, and it's informed the way I see the world. Most people learn at a rapid rate when passion and enthusiasm are driving them. A good teacher mirrors this energy and helps the student direct it toward their goal. While it is inevitable that obstacles will occur on the road, there is only one true impediment to learning (and here I'm talking about adult students). Unless and until a person can work through this issue, no viable progress can be made. The obstacle is this: the inability to enter, and remain comfortable in, Beginner's Mind.
As children we embody every single growth metaphor, all at the same time: we are like sunflowers stretching toward the sun, like sponges soaking up the ocean, like birds struggling to fly, and like foals learning to walk. In fact, we're learning so much so fast that it can feel exhausting. Yet we rise every day with a ferocious hunger for the world and all the things in it. We are ravenous, wonder-filled beginners. We're surrounded by "experts", adults who seem to have the answer for every question, and we don't hesitate to ask them again and again for help when we need it. In our learning process we experiment; we listen to instruction, attempt, fail, try again, take suggestions, fail again, shake it off and try something new. We repeat this process over and over, with our eyes and ears open, until we have enough confidence to go forward on our own.
When we become adults we're suddenly faced with the prospect of Failure (with a capitol F!). The fear of it shadows everything we do. We work hard to outrun this fear, yet it clings with diabolical tenacity. Success is the goal, eternally shape-shifting in front of us on the road, distorting our field of vision. Failure is the rabid dog on our trail. Fear of failure can motivate us to do our best work, but the price we pay is steep. In allowing fear to drive us we lose our ability to be vulnerable, to falter, to feel uncertain and lost, and to find our way forward one careful step at a time. We forget how to be beginners because we're so afraid of not appearing like experts. We take this fear with us every time we start something new, and that's part of the reason that we abandon so many efforts at the early stage (think back... how many hobbies, relationships, jobs, and creative works have you started and quit before you got good at them?). In order to experience our full creative potential, we have to be willing to think like beginners.
In my years of teaching I have observed that the learning process can trigger an avalanche of struggle. Symptoms of resistance to Beginner's Mind include being easily distracted, deflecting answers to direct questions, boasting about unrelated accomplishments, crying, sweating, and not showing up. Quite often, when we are fighting against Beginner's Mind, prickling embarrassment torments us and makes us stammer, blush, and stutter. Our vulnerability scares us. We become intensely frustrated, and ashamed of our frustration. We mutter that we don't know what's wrong with us, then make an excuse that is not truthful. In short, we do everything possible to regain our composure and feel safe and strong again. But that strength, rather than supporting and encouraging us to relax our fears and trust the process of learning, actually puts a giant wall between us and the creative success that we so long for. In fact, that wall can keep us from having any creative satisfaction at all.
So how do we break on through to the other side? With simple curiosity. Rather than struggling to cover up when we feel vulnerable, we can step away from our ego, look at the task in front of us, and ask, "what's cool about this? how does it work? what can I try that I haven't tried before?". We may have undertaken a creative effort because we want more enjoyment and fulfillment in our lives, and that's a good choice. But here's the thing: If you want to learn (and improve) you're going to have to get comfortable with being a beginner. No one gets to skip this step.
When you are in Beginner's Mind, be infinitely curious. Find a good teacher and ask a thousand questions. Practice your art diligently. Examine the fine details of what you're doing, and compare them with the larger picture. Work with a steady hand and a light touch. Step back from time to time, observe your progress, and make note of improvements. Read about others who have tread the path before you. Take comfort and inspiration from their journey, and know that you are part of a much larger community of dedicated artists who were once, every last one of them, beginners.
Finding your way back to Beginner's Mind, and staying there through your learning process, is a heroic act. If you attempt it, expect to feel your own resistance rising up like a mountain in front of you. Don't despair. Melt yourself down like fresh glacier water, and flow around it. Ask yourself what's on the other side, and go find out!