Remember when your workplace last updated some software system (email, payroll, client management, internal communication, etc.) or worst yet, switch to a new one? Likely you discovered a new and confusing interface. If you’ve ever switched from a PC to a Mac (or vice versa, if that happens), you know the initial confusion of constantly looking on the wrong side of the computer to open and close everything.

Frustrations of a Novice

Changes, such as these, fueled by continuous technological innovation can leave you frustrated, feeling like a novice. Quickly you anticipate the confusion and frustration you’ll feel and mistakes you’ll make trying simply to become proficient again. You can almost envision your valuable time slip away while you wrestle with these changes that have eroded your previously hard-won expertise. 

No mystery why change that shifts you from an expert to a novice is unpleasant. Expertise feels awesome! While being a novice feels awkward at best. Novices regularly experience uncertainty, confusion, and frustration.

Pleasures of an Expert

On the other hand, with expertise you’re empowered to act with efficiency and ease. You know what to do. You especially know what to do with new information that fits in your expertise. Others seek you out. Expertise becomes a currency of sorts that purchases attention and accesses power and opportunity. 

Given a choice, expertise wins every time! 

Buck the Trend—Choose to be a Novice

But I want to make a case for embracing the novice role.

Willingly becoming a novice means: 

  • You’ve embraced change. That’s pretty awesome! After all, sticking with the same old same old is comfortable. It saves you time and energy.
  • You’re committed to growing. Growing only happens when you embrace something new and different and challenge your comfort level.
  • You’re hopeful. You believe, and have likely experienced, that with practice and repetition, that with patience and time you can transform your status from novice to expert.
  • You’re realistic. You know that expertise is fleeting. Changes beyond your control can rapidly erode your expertise. If you doubt, remember people once had businesses repairing TVs, selling music albums, renting VHS videos, operating elevators, etc. You’ve learned NOT to strongly link your identity or base your value on your expertise.

Bonuses of regularly being a novice at something. You will:

  • Increase your patience with yourself and others.
  • Increase your empathy for others, especially new learners at all stages of life. When you’re the expert it’s easy to react to the resistance and the frustrations novices express about your expertise. They might create defensive stances to cope with their discomfort. They may dismiss your expertise as unimportant or not worth their effort. When you regularly practice being a novice you recognize that and look past it to ease their anxiety. You connect with them, offering small steps to link them with your much-loved expertise.
  • Improve how you teach or demonstrate your expertise to others. A great gulf exists between the novice and the expert. Expertise shows up in the brain as a complex set of neural pathways the expert has wired together through practice and repetition. Novices don’t have this complex set of neural pathways built yet. Experts have complex mental models for organizing information and concepts. Novices have a jumble of information that’s intertwined with flawed assumptions based on their experiences. When you’re practiced at being a novice, you’ve consciously experienced both sides of this gulf. With practice you begin to see your expertise through the lens of a novice. That perspective opens new possibilities for teaching novices.
  • Learn more because you try more things.
  • Grow and change because you’ve had more practice being a novice. You know also that being a novice is a status that changes, especially when you take action. You’ve developed and honed strategies for working through the initial fear, frustration, and confusion of being a novice.

So, are you ready to embrace novice-hood? Become comfortable with being uncomfortable. Willingly jump into something you find intimidating! Learn from other novices. Become a novice yourself!


Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash