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Cultivating Beginner’s Mind: Adventure Lies Outside Your Comfort Zone

“The don’t-know mind… doesn’t fear, has no wish to control or foresee, steps off the cliff of the moment with absolute trust that the next step will land somewhere, and the next step somewhere else, and the feet will take us wherever we need to go.” ~Byron Katie

I am fifty-five years old. I’ve raised a family, been through two divorces, bought and sold four houses, and had a successful professional career. And right now I’m doing one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, which is learning to host in a busy restaurant.

My coworkers range from mid-twenties to early thirties. They are smart and hardworking. I feel like my brain is about to explode.

Why am I doing this? Well, money, for one thing. For better or worse, I can’t go back to my original profession after taking two decades off to be a mom. But another large motivator is that I want to do something totally new and out of my comfort zone, to experience what Buddhists call the “not-know mind” or beginner’s mind.

In my experience, adults older than about twenty-five are exceptionally good at stacking the odds in their own favor. We like to do what’s familiar, what’s comfortably in our wheelhouse.

Let’s face it: It feels good to know what you’re doing—especially when you’re the oldest one in the room!

Throughout childhood and young adulthood, avoiding new experiences is not optional (however much we might resist them). Every year in school we get a new teacher, perhaps new classmates, and continually new material to learn.

Starting a new career, moving into new social roles and responsibilities, all require us to be a beginner, to not know for that uncomfortable initial period.

Our goal in life is usually to reduce this sense of uncertainty and vulnerability as quickly as possible. Resisting new experiences, even the ones we actively desire, makes them still more uncomfortable. If we could crack this nut and truly embrace the vulnerability (and excitement!) of being a beginner, our lives would be more interesting—and a lot less stressful.

The discomfort we feel is pure ego. Ego is the part of us that needs to look large and in charge at all times. It is not a fan of beginner’s mind. Ego tells us we’re in danger when we’re not in familiar territory. Its job is to keep us “safe,” and if that means living a small and boring life, so be it.

I have to actively calm and soothe my ego each night when I report to work, filled with unfamiliar butterflies. I use self-talk that sounds exactly like what I say to my daughter when she embarks on a new experience:

“Just do your best. No one expects you to know everything right off the bat. New things are always scary, but you learn more every night.”

One of the keys to beginner’s mind is humility—a characteristic not highly regarded in this society. We are mostly about pumping ourselves up (there’s ego again). Humility requires us to acknowledge and honor what others know that we do not. For instance, I never knew how challenging restaurant work was before this, but I will never take a server for granted again!

Humility and humiliation are not the same thing. Recognition isn’t a zero-sum game: Genuine admiration of someone else’s ability or expertise does not automatically make me “less than” as a person. In fact, it makes me stronger! To be humble in this sense is a mark of maturity and real self-esteem.

Humility isn’t about falsely running ourselves down, but about seeing ourselves—our strengths and weaknesses—clearly. In this job, it doesn’t matter that I have a master’s degree (there are lots of servers with master’s degrees, I find) and no one cares what my previous profession was. What matters is that I’m willing to learn from anyone with the time to teach me.

Beginner’s mind is all about being willing to learn, which can (and should) happen at any age. But you can’t learn something new if you only do what you’re already good at. You can’t learn if you insist on being the expert. You can’t learn if you’re not willing to get it wrong for a while, to make mistakes—even in public.

The pay-offs are many, although it might be hard to convince yourself of that when you’re full of butterflies and dread. Life is an adventure, and adventures require us to step out of our comfort zones.

Ask yourself: Am I really ready to settle for more of the same for the rest of my life? Isn’t it worth a little discomfort (even a lot) to learn a new skill, meet a new person, or discover a new aspect of myself?

We can ask the ego to take a back seat for a while, and no one will be the worse for it. We can take our courage in our hands, and step out into the unknown, over the cliff, trusting that the next step will land somewhere.

Usually, the worst that can happen is that we will feel uncomfortable, maybe even embarrassed. Maybe we’ll actually fail! I’ve considered that outcome and decided that I’ll survive if it happens. I’d rather try and fail than wonder if I might have succeeded.

I hope that I’m providing a positive role model for my younger coworkers; maybe when they’re fifty-something they won’t hesitate to step out on a limb either. I know that I’m providing a good role model for my daughter. She texts me good luck almost every night on my way to work, and says things like, “I’m proud of us, Mom.”

We lose touch with what our children are going through when we get too comfortable with our lives. They don’t put much credence in our advice to “just try it” when they never see us taking a risk. We can’t model courage, or how to handle mistakes and survive failure, if we always stay safely ensconced in our comfort zones.

And the fact is, change will come even when we do our best to guard against it. The safety of a comfort zone is temporary, at best. In embracing humility and beginner’s mind, we really have nothing to lose and everything to gain. We’ll either succeed, or we’ll learn something—or, most likely, both. It’s a win/win (although you might never convince your ego of that)!

About Amaya Pryce

Amaya Pryce is a spiritual coach and writer living in the Pacific Northwest. Her newest book, How to Grow Your Soulis available on Amazon. For coaching or to follow her blog, please visit www.amayapryce.com.

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  • This is an incredibly inspiring post, it can be so difficult at times to leave our comfort zones, but most times it’s what we need to do most!
    I always feel invincible and so free when I do something that scares me, it far outweighs the fear of doing it in the first place, and the more you do it, the easier it becomes!

  • Amaya

    Thank you! “Invincible” is exactly how I feel now that I am finally getting the hang of this job. Not that I still don’t make mistakes, but I actually am really enjoying the challenges, and I would never have gotten to this point if I hadn’t endured the initial discomfort!

  • Olivia Stone

    Thanks for this! I really need this! as I have read in the Consumer Health Digest, that happiness is a state of mind, thank you for getting me on the road for happiness

  • Smita

    Wow! This is an incrediblly inspiring post and truly hit the spot. Many sentences in this post have been saved for reading. You have a way with words – looking forward to your future posts!

  • Amaya

    Oh, thank you so much! I’m so glad you found it helpful. I always write what I need to learn the most myself. 🙂

  • Pin Charger

    Thank you for this awesome write up..I will print this and read it everyday. I stepped out of my comfort zone and it’s been difficult but it’s a win/win because i am a new person with so much experience i otherwise won’t have gained if i hadn’t moved. The beauty of humility can’t be over emphasized.

  • Amaya

    I’m so glad that you have also found the benefits of humility and of stepping out of your comfort zone. Congratulations!! It gets a little easier every time we do it, too. 🙂

  • Louise

    Thank you for your words, they really resonate with me. Sometimes in life we are forced out of our comfort zone by circumstances and we always have choices. We can resist and struggle (which I have done at times) or we can let go and embrace the change. Sometimes it’s a loose hug we use to embrace it, but the best growth and biggest value is in the full bodied embrace! A very challenging year for me with unemployment, severe health issues and hospitalisation (including heart failure) and divorce. However I was just reflecting today how this has been balanced by a new career (big learning!) awesome new friends, taking on debt to free myself through buying my family home and watching my sons grow, learn and start to leave the nest. And my biggest learning has been accepting sometimes you just have to rest, be patient and wait for the strength, which will come! Life is an amazing adventure ripe for the picking! ❤️

  • Amaya

    I love this! Thank you for sharing. You are obviously going through a huge time of growth (which so often presents as a time of difficulties). I really agree that a full-on embrace is the best way to approach these times. They’re going to happen whether we resist them or not, but we waste so much creative energy on the resistance! Here’s to you for being so courageous and open to life. xo

  • Defined Sight

    Thank you so much for the reminder – to get comfortable in being uncomfortable!!! I like the point made about it is worth the risk if we learn something about ourselves, a new skill, etc. And excellent points about what kind of role models we will be setting for our children. They are going to be subjected to a lot of risks and change – the best person they can look up to in how to handle them are the parents. Keep it up! Your’re doing great if no one has told you that yet today!

  • Amaya

    Thank you so much! 🙂