The Unexpected Joy of Being a Beginner

I started out going to school in the French Immersion program (it’s a big thing here in Canada since we are a bilingual country). After 3 years in the program, we switched schools and I went to an English school with regular French classes, and I was constantly ahead of the curve (I mean fair enough, even though we’re talking elementary school here, little kids really are sponges!)

When I started middle/high school, I was excited that the new school had an advanced French program – I liked languages and was excited to learn more as I’d kind of been coasting for a couple of years (if you didn’t already know this about me I’m a nerd and the kind of person who gets excited about learning).

Now I’d been at the top of my class in French for years and, despite the fact that this advanced program was teaching French 2-3 levels ahead of the standard curriculum, I came in HOT – I was so used to ace-ing everything in that subject that I was grossly underprepared for what came next.

As I’m sure you can imagine I was handed a pretty harsh reality check. I remember being legitimately shocked when I started pulling in C’s and D’s on quizes and assignments (yes, I was a straight-A’s kind of girl so this shook me to the core).

I remember talking to my parents and rattling off all the reasons this must be happening to me (oh, woe is me!) – the teacher didn’t like me, my old school had been trash, they were just not good at teaching here… I know, eye roll.

But I’ll never forget what happened that fall at parent-teacher interviews. I remember going around from classroom to classroom with my parents, and receiving pretty similar feedback all around – I was doing well in class, there was always 1-2 things to work on but overall things are looking good.

We ended the night sitting with my French teacher and I had a pit in my stomach. I was terrified of what she was going to say to my parents and that I was going to get kicked out of school or something (ok, maybe I didn’t have the best sense of realistic consequences but I was 12).

But Mme Kalayanam (a 4ft tall Indian woman who I will never forget) sat with us and gave us the cold hard facts – I was capable of more. I had plenty of potential but I wasn’t really giving my assignments and tests the energy and attention they required at this level.

I remember feeling like this was…correct. It was a little hard for my 12-year-old ego to hear, but I knew she was right. I had been expecting everything to be as easy for me at this school as it had at my last, and to just see those A’s rolling in. I wasn’t really studying that hard or spending long on my assignments – it was a classic case of resting on your laurels.

I could have gotten offended at her assessment of me and raised my defences. But instead I took her feedback to heart – I changed how I approached my French class, worked hard to improve my grades, and went on to graduate with a stellar grade (heck, I even got my undergraduate degree in French, so I guess she was right!)

I often joke about how my undergrad has nothing to do with what I do now for work, but the truth is that the lessons I learned on that path were crucial even if the subject matter isn’t what I get paid for.

That moment in middle school when I really took on the constructive feedback of a great educator shifted my mindset in a critical way. It opened up an opportunity for me to kick my sense of entitlement to the curb and enjoy becoming a beginner again.

And as an entrepreneur, there might be nothing more important than finding joy in being a beginner. Because entrepreneurship is a constant journey of skill building and personal development – even if you’re an expert in your field, you now have to learn how to actually start, build, and scale a business (probably things you didn’t learn in school).

Being able to tap into your beginner’s mindset will set you up for massive success – because beginners aren’t afraid to not know things. They don’t have an ego about being in the learning process, and they are generally more open to trying new things.

And now, many years after that first mindset shift, I continue to intentionally become a learner in my business regularly. Whether it’s learning from a new mentor, learning a new strategy, or learning a new platform or tool, I’m always stretching those muscles – because I know that it ultimately cultivates a better work ethic and attitude towards everyone I interact with (as opposed to being an entitled a-hole).

How has growing your business forced you to become a learner again?