Why I Would Rather Be a Beginner Than an Expert

Chris Ronzio

June 29, 2020

Originally published as a Forbes Council Post by Chris Ronzio.

I recently started swimming at my local gym (before quarantine happened). My first time there, I stepped right up to the edge of the pool and dove in.

As I hit the water, my goggles fell off. I had bought the wrong size and they weren’t tight enough — rookie mistake. I readjusted my goggles and kept going. However, I kept noticing other things that I was doing wrong. My form was terrible. I didn’t know how or when I was supposed to breathe, and I couldn’t push off the wall in a straight line.

I had no training plan, no coach, no way to track my workout and no clue what I was doing. Why? Until I was in the water, I didn’t think I needed any of those things.

I’ve been able to swim for as long as I can remember. In an hour session, however, I realized how much I actually didn’t know about swimming. I had no choice but to admit that I was a beginner. But, at that moment, that was probably the best thing I could be.

Don’t be ashamed of beginner status.

No one wants to admit they are a beginner — especially at something they’ve done for a while. Despite popular belief, though, being a beginner has much more to do with mindset than lack of experience.

By posing as “the expert,” all we really do is cheat ourselves of the opportunity to get better. We put ourselves in positions where others are less willing to help. When it’s offered, we are less open to receiving it.

I want to clarify what I mean when I say that I am a beginner. I’m not saying that I am failing and can’t do it on my own. I’m saying I recognize what I don’t know and am open to learning so I can improve. That’s the beginner mindset.

Move the goal post.

Let’s get this out of the way first: Whenever you level up, you just become a beginner at the next level of expertise. Don’t forget that.

Whenever I hit a goal, I make sure to set a bigger one to take its place. The day after I ran my first 10K, I started training for a half marathon. I would rather challenge myself and fail than do the same thing over and over until it becomes easy. That’s boring and only holds me back.

Be someone who people want to help.

When I got out of the pool, the swimmer in the lane next to mine was drying off. Compared to mine, his workout looked effortless. He clearly wasn’t new to this. I started a conversation with him, complimenting his form and asking if he had any pointers to help me out. He had at least 20, almost all of which I could introduce in my next workout.

Admitting what you don’t know never puts you at a disadvantage. Instead, it makes people excited to share their experiences and help you out. I cannot stress how important it is to ask for help, ask questions and vocalize what you see someone else doing really well.

See opportunities where others can’t.

Once a quarter, we host companywide ideation meetings. Representatives from each department pitch their teams’ most outlandish ideas and help us expand our product.

Before we started running these meetings, all the pressure was on our product team to generate new ideas (they are the experts, right?). Consistently, and surprisingly, however, the best ideas come from other departments that look at the problem through a different lens. This allows us to look beyond how we thought the product should be to see what it could be.

Hire other beginners.

You're a beginner? You're hired!

Don’t get me wrong, I hire top talent with tons of great experience. But, given the option, I will always choose the candidate with less experience and a hunger to learn over someone who feels entitled enough to consider themselves the expert.

From the outside, this might look like a mistake. However, in my experience, those who consider themselves to be experts are closed off to new perspectives and uncollaborative, and they often get in the way of progress. Compare this to the beginner who comes with endless opportunities for growth, and it’s a no-brainer.

So, even though I’m still a bad swimmer, I feel really good about my beginner status. At least my goggles fit now.