06.18.14

It’s Okay To Be a Beginner

I’ll never forget the time during one of my first yoga classes when I was paying so much attention to what the graceful woman in front of me was doing that I lost control of my own pose and fell flat on my face. And you guys, if that isn’t the ultimate metaphor for life, I don’t know what is.

We learned it in elementary school but clearly we need a refresher: keep your eyes on your own paper.

Because guess what? No matter what you want to do, there are people out there who are already doing it. And that’s fine. There are people out there who are already amazing at it, and that’s fine too. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Success isn’t like cake – there’s no such thing as someone grabbing the very last piece. 

So, okay, maybe you want to do something or change something but you aren’t very good at it yet. I get it, I’ve been there. That’s how running was for me at the beginning – and it’s also how I felt when I first started working for myself and when I first quit drinking and when I was first struggling to switch to a healthier diet. During each of those things there was a period of time when I just stared jealously at what other runners, business owners, and healthy eaters were doing and constantly felt frustrated with the fact that I wasn’t at their level. Which means that I know exactly what it’s like to want something really badly and to struggle with the fact that it seems like everyone else already has it nailed and that you’re somehow “not good enough” because you can’t quite figure it out for yourself.

So first of all, if you’re feeling that way, you aren’t alone. That’s the first thing to know. The second thing to know is that it’s okay to be a beginner! It’s okay to be new to something, to be terrible at something, and to have no fucking clue what to do next. One of the most damaging myths in our culture is the one about overnight success. Maybe it happens in .000001% of cases, but I don’t know a single person who has changed her life or built a business or landed a dream job or completed a race who didn’t spend a large chunk of time with her brain going like this: ldfkgjkjghdkgjd?!?!!?!

Change is hard, you guys! Doing something new is really scary, and yet we make it even worse for ourselves when we constantly compare ourselves to other people. When I first started running, before I could even run one mile, I remember a particularly dark week where I was looking at all the marathoners out there and thinking, “What’s the point? If I can’t even run a mile, why am I even bothering with this?”

But look, it doesn’t matter what other people are doing, because no matter how great or terrible someone else is as at something, the only thing you need to do is start where you are right now. That’s it. Just start where you are. And in order to do that, it’s time to get real with yourself about where you are in the first place.

Let me give you an example.

The other day, my mind started wandering to what I might want to do as a runner after next year’s run across America. I have no idea how I’ll feel at that point, but I keep coming back to how much I’d love to qualify for the Boston Marathon. So, who knows, maybe that will be the goal I turn to after next year, and if I do I’ve got some serious work cut out for me because the qualifying time for my age group is 3:35 and my best marathon time is a 4:03. That’s a big time gap. But if I do decide to go for it, to begin chipping away at that finishing time, the only way I’ll have a chance at succeeding is if I’m honest with myself about where I’m starting from. I can’t pretend that I’m able to run those faster paces right now. I can’t pretend that I’m going to get there in just a few months. I can’t fixate on how fast other runners are. I’ll have to just take a truthful look at where I’m at when the time comes, and then go one step at a time from there.

And the same is true for you in whatever you want to do in your own life. You have to start exactly where you are. If you want to write a book and are faced with nothing but the blank page, you need to start with a single sentence. If you want to change your diet, you need to get real with yourself about 1) what you’re actually eating and 2) what you are and are not willing to change right now. It’s useless to tell yourself that “starting tomorrow, you’ll never eat sugar again” if that’s not really the case. (And, c’mon, is that ever the case??) So regardless of where you eventually want to be and no matter how big your dreams are, it’s time to stop setting the bar for your next step at such a crazy, unrealistic level. Just start where you are.

If you can only do five squats, do five squats – knowing that the path to 10 squats and 25 squats and 50 squats absolutely must start with those first five. You can waste hundreds of hours jealously watching other people do hundreds of squats, but obsessing over the fact that there are other people who are stronger than you isn’t going to make you any stronger. Even if you watch someone else do perfect squats for hundreds of hours, you’ll still have to come back and start where you are with those first five of your own, so you might as well get started already.

Same goes for everything else. If you only know how to cook one healthy meal, cook that meal. If you can’t figure out how to set up a fancy website, start with a simple blog. If you only have 10 free minutes per day to learn to knit, put your ass in the chair for those 10 minutes and knit knit knit. Because I promise – and I mean truly, truly promise – that the only way to get where you want to be is to start where you are.

So, here’s what I want you to do. Right now, step back and take an honest and judgement-free evaluation of where you are. Not where you wish you were – where you actually are – and then commit to starting from there.

Some days, I think back to that particularly dark week at the beginning of my running journey when I couldn’t come close to running one mile and I marvel at how different my life would be if I had quit because “other people were so much faster and better than me.” That was a real possibility back then, but I’m so grateful that I stuck with it. I’m grateful that I gave myself the training wheels I needed to realistically start from the ground up, because that’s the only way I’ve been able to make consistent progress. And it’s funny, because when you’re in the terrifying period of being a beginner you don’t have a clue how far you can go. I realized that again this week, when I was on the phone with my best friend and I made an off-hand comment about how this was a light training week for me, and that I’d “only be running about 40 miles.” REMEMBER WHEN I COULDN’T RUN ONE MILE? And now a 40-mile week is a light week.

So, look, forget what everyone else is doing, okay? If you’re a beginner, be a beginner. If you’ve been unsuccessful in the past, forget about it. The only thing that makes the struggles of your past a part of your current reality is the fact that you won’t shut up about it. So shut up about it! Who cares about the past? Who cares what other people are doing? Just start where you are, right now, and go from there.

SERIOUSLY, ONE SALAD IS BETTER THAN ZERO SALADS.

ONE BLOG POST IS BETTER THAN ZERO BLOG POSTS.

ONE PUSH-UP IS BETTER THAN ZERO PUSH-UPS.

JUST START.

START WHERE YOU ARE.

{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

Lizzie Beadon June 18, 2014 at 8:28 am

There is very little that I don’t love about this blog post.

“SERIOUSLY, ONE SALAD IS BETTER THAN ZERO SALADS.
ONE BLOG POST IS BETTER THAN ZERO BLOG POSTS.
ONE PUSH-UP IS BETTER THAN ZERO PUSH-UPS.
JUST START.
START WHERE YOU ARE.”

I wish I could have that printed on a picture, and then hung up in every room of my house.

Absolutely love it. :) Thanks for sharing!

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Ashley Koch June 18, 2014 at 8:35 am

In Gretchen Rubin’s book The Happiness Project, she talks a lot about Commandments of Adulthood–certain rules she reminds herself of to make things easier/happier. I tried to think of what my own rules of adulthood are, and “Start where you are” was one of the very the first. It’s so much easier for me to want to make up for missed time (whatever that means) by trying to start where I think I should be, which is way ahead of where I am. I find myself trying to start at the end point–the place I’ll be when I’ve reached my goal, rather than at the beginning–where all the hard work is. Reminding myself to start where I am helps me to ground myself and get back to something more manageable.

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Benj Curtis June 18, 2014 at 8:37 am

So perfectly real…raw and simplistic…love your blog posts and thank you for this simple affirming thought. Cheers!

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Kelly L June 18, 2014 at 8:39 am

You have no idea how much I needed to read this today. Thank you.

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Heather June 18, 2014 at 10:27 am

Seriously, I was thinking the same thing!!!!

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Diane June 18, 2014 at 8:47 am

Thanks! I am full of new beginnings and I am 61. It’s a little overwhelming sometimes and then I read your blog. Perfect. Again , thanks

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Erika June 18, 2014 at 8:52 am

“keep your eyes on your own paper.”

One of my favorite mantras as of late.

Fantastic post, as always, Nicole!

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Laura Podrasky June 18, 2014 at 8:53 am

Damn, girl! You are so good at this! You are totally correct. We need to own our beginnings and just keep moving. Thanks for sharing and giving it to us straight!

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Jessica June 18, 2014 at 9:36 am

So needed this! I made a huge career change last year (creative fiction writing to business management…uh-huh), and Monday I start a Master’s degree program in an area I have very little background in. It’s freaking me out, but I’m ready – first day, first class, first assignment, and no where to go but up. Determined face is on!

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Cindy June 18, 2014 at 9:38 am

Where I am…I’ve slacked off the last couple months on a life-changing project I was working on. I convinced myself that I didn’t actually want to do the thing, and I was traveling for work and with family, so I stopped thinking about it. It has come to mind in the last week, and I thought, “remember, that is not a thing I can do, me/myself/I agreed about that. I don’t have the skills and would be bad at it.” So I’m putting that judgment aside and letting myself be a beginner. Time to learn!

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Akirah June 18, 2014 at 10:03 am

I think for me, I’m not too, too worried about what other people are doing, but what I used to be able to do in the past. A few years ago I ran a 10K and it was awesome. But I’ve been on an exercise roller coaster ever since and recently learned that I’m the heaviest I’ve been in forever. I’m fighting against a lot of shame right now, knowing I’m struggling to run 1 mile, when three years ago I could run 6. My husband has been an awesome supporter to me as I take steps forward towards HEALTH, not perfection. It’s tough, though.

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Maggie June 19, 2014 at 7:30 am

I hear you, Akirah! Thank you for sharing. I cried to my therapist last night because I was beating myself up for being as out of shape as I’ve ever been, and I USED to be able to do a lot more too. No shame! Good luck to you. :)

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Mikael June 18, 2014 at 10:19 am

Just EVERYTHING in this post is perfectly said and motivational as gold. Start where you are. So simple, but so effective. Thanks for your amazing words, Nicole.

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Tiisme June 18, 2014 at 10:21 am

Thank you for this. I keep making incremental changes toward having a really healthy and clean diet. I cut out most added sugar last year and have resisted it successfully for the first time in my life. I’ve started cooking a few times a month, up from ‘never unless you count heating this Trader Joe’s veggie mix in the microwave’. I’ve recently started walking the 102 stairs at the public garden in my neighborhood, with a couple sets of pushups against the gate mixed in. I’m hoping to do that once a week and then, when once a week is a no-brainer part of my schedule, twice. What stops me so often is the thought of all the things I’ve done once and quit because I honestly lost interest in them. Couch to 5k completed and then I never ran again. Got really toned with a personal trainer and then lost interest. This time, I’m focusing on the current month ONLY. No looking back, no looking forward. I’m going to eat well and walk the stairs this month. Makes it doable.

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CIRILO S. 3RD June 18, 2014 at 10:38 am

After 11 years, I changed careers from electronics to cook and on my way to becoming chef. It took a lot of courage to just stop one career after 11 years and start fresh in another. While I was in culinary school, I was married to my wife Ling. Graduated in January and dove straight into the industry. Three months later my son Cirilo the 4th was born on May 12th. It’s hard knowing how far ahead I was in my previous career, and how far I have to go in my new one. I just try to learn everyday and progress.

Thanks Nicole!

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Graham Brownlie June 18, 2014 at 10:48 am

Awesome advice…as always your timing helps me and reinforces decision I made to identify honestly where I am on mileage and then plan my training for mt fuji ultra based on here i am now plan.
As always your direct no nonsense approach helps me cut through the bull.
Thank you for making a difference.
Graham

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Lauryn June 18, 2014 at 11:35 am

Thank you for saying exactly what I needed to hear/read this week. There are so many goals and ambitions and ideas floating around in my life right now, and it’s easy to talk myself out of following through with them because of that discouraging beginner phase that I always feel stuck in. This post is such a great reminder that it just doesn’t flipping matter, and to keep working on things one day, one blog post, and one push-up at a time.

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Lauren @ Sassy Molassy June 18, 2014 at 11:52 am

That’s what I’ve been thinking with the whole school process. Just start… and then continue. Take this one class and now take the next and someday, you’ll have all those prerequisites done and you’ll be ready to start your program! It helps me keep my focus on the small but important things rather than getting overwhelmed by the overall goal (becoming a R.D.).

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Sober Second Half June 18, 2014 at 12:05 pm

Amen, sister. Knocking on the door of the mid-forties, I often feel “too old” to do anything new. But that is bullshit! If not now, when? I know – NEVER – and what a waste of life that would be. One step at a time with blinders on.

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Valorie June 18, 2014 at 1:22 pm

I love this advice and try to remind myself of it all the time.

I’m beginning a few things right now – giving up gluten and writing for other sources are my two big ones. It’s nice to have a reminder that it’s okay to be a beginner!

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Vanessa June 18, 2014 at 3:38 pm

“The only thing that makes the struggles of your past a part of your current reality is the fact that you won’t shut up about it. So shut up about it!”

That about sums it up, yep! I forget sometimes that that only way those past experiences can impede my progress is if I let them. Definitely needed the reminder today!

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Margie June 18, 2014 at 4:39 pm

John Bingham aka The Penguin stated: “The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.” I now believe that as soon as I take the first step towards achieving a new goal, I’m already a winner. And everyone reading this should think so too. It took almost 40 years to realise this, but that’s ok.

Brilliant site, thank you so much, Nicole!!

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Vanessa June 18, 2014 at 6:42 pm

Very sound advice! Starting is always the hardest part. What’s that saying? “A year from now, you will have wished you’d started today.” Truth.

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Jo-Anne June 18, 2014 at 8:34 pm

We all have been beginers at something as we don’t come into this world know everything, hell we come into this world knowing nothing at all

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Caroline McGraw June 19, 2014 at 1:56 pm

I’m starting to think that you are a mind-reader … this is spot-on, exactly what I needed to hear this week. THANK YOU.

I was just writing about how perfectionism prevents me from starting where I am. This is my fateful mistake: I interpret being a beginner as getting it ‘wrong’ … when it’s really just being a beginner!

I think to myself, “This is really hard and progress is slow and I’m not doing as well as I thought I’d be doing (even though my expectations were really high) … so maybe I should quit …” But your post brought me back to reality. Really, really appreciate it. :)

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Robyn June 19, 2014 at 2:12 pm

And not to mention the fact that there is something absolutely wonderful about being a beginner. Every step is (normally) a step forward, and every new level reached is novel and fresh and exhilarating. Sometimes I wish I could recreate the experience of, say, training for my first marathon, because even though I was overwhelmed and such a newbie, that first 14 miler, then 18 miler, then TWENTY MILER were so memorable, you know? There’s so much delight in being a beginner, and I feel like the comparison game robs us of that delight, among other things.

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Renee June 19, 2014 at 4:09 pm

I need those words today…Feeling a little low about thing ..not eating right, slipping up just one more time…Today is a good to start, with the smallest step

Thanks

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Savannah McKenzie June 19, 2014 at 4:18 pm

Great as usual! I check your blog every single day for new posts. It has actually been instrumental in inspiring my own writing and recently launched blog. I love this discussion about being a beginner I recently posted on a similar topic . For me, exercise and diet changes have been the most intimidating. About a year ago, I decided to reduce the amount of meat I eat, working towards vegetarianism. Every single meal was a struggle to plan and implement, it all seemed so forced, but now I am happy to say eating a primarily meatless diet is the norm . Sometimes all it takes is waiting yourself out and believing one day it will be easier. Thanks Nicole!

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Dallas June 19, 2014 at 9:37 pm

Love love LOVE this, Nicole! Thank you so much for this post. Exactly what I needed to hear right now!

And btw, I am soooo inspired by your run across America! You’re a rockstar.

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Sarah J. Sequins June 19, 2014 at 10:38 pm

This, so much!

I’ve been exercising regularly since January. I recently hit a snag when I hurt my shoulder. And then I hurt my knee. And then I hurt my back when I was doing my kneehab (knee rehab). Not the first time these things have hurt, for sure — in fact, two out of three are naturally screwed up.

I’ve had to cut down on the exercise big time. It’s frustrating to know that I’m still so injury-prone. It’s maddening to remember that no matter how strong I get, I still have a back that’s bent like a boomerang. But giving up hasn’t really crossed my mind because a) it’s only been 5 months and b) in spite of the ouchies, I’m making progress. There’s something cool about having a sports injury as opposed to, say, a bruised tailbone from sitting on my ass all day. ;)

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Christine June 19, 2014 at 11:40 pm

So I was supposed to run my first ultra this summer… one car accident in January and subsequent concussion with ongoing symptoms equals no running. I’ll keep this post in mind when I come back from minimal exercise and rehab to my first mile (and I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to that day of being allowed to not boggle my brain again). Run for all of those who “can’t” Nicole. Love your posts. Oh and I still think you should start a t-shirt biz so I can wear what I feel – you have too many good sayings!

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kathy June 26, 2014 at 2:14 pm

Well, I did it! I took the first step… to becoming a Zumba instructor!!!! I’ve been thinking about it for ages, different people have encouraged me, but I kept putting it off.
I’m now booked in for my training course, and have already spread the word that I’m starting up, which means no backing out!
I’m bricking it if I’m honest, but I’d rather try and fail (and hopefully have fun trying!), than think back in 5 or 10 years time and kick myself for not trying.
Shake your boooootie!!!!

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Annie June 27, 2014 at 2:10 pm

I’m a week late reading this, but today was when I really needed it. Thank you as always.

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Reclaiming Your Future July 1, 2014 at 9:28 pm

I’ve just found your website and I have to say Nicole, I absolutely LOVE this post. I think, “If you want to write a book and are faced with nothing but the blank page, you need to start with a single sentence. ” has to be one of the best lines I’ve read recently because it’s so true!
What’s the saying? Comparison is the thief of joy!
I always say to my friends (and people in general), if you don’t think you can start, take baby steps; they may take you longer but they’ll still carry you forward :)

Thank you for this post!
Toni

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Terry-Lynn July 11, 2014 at 8:18 am

I’m going to read this inspiring post OUT LOUD – so it will really sink in!
Namaste ~

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Janelle July 16, 2014 at 10:04 am

Amen, sista. You rock.

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Cyndrel July 18, 2014 at 6:04 pm

Yo!

thanks for the reminder again! have I told you I used to spend about 5 hours daydreaming about my ‘concert’…hahaha…but since I started taking in most of the things that you say here in your blog, I tried to think differently…now I spend about 5-10 minutes practicing the guitar in between work hours!~ haha, yes I’m in a job that I hate, but that won’t keep me from doing what I want to do anymore!!! :P

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