Rookie Energy: Are You Tapping into It?

Admit it: you’d rather not be called a rookie.

A convicted felon? Better than being called a rookie. A narcissistic psychopath? Still better. A “how to run a successful puppy mill” mentor? You get the point.

Why is the rookie label so distasteful? Because in our know-it-all knowledge economy, nestled within our GO-GO-GO-GET-‘ER-DONE society, We Like Mastery! All 10,000 hours it takes to (debatably) acquire it! We’d rather know it all than be new at it all.

Call it comfort, call it ego, call it passion gone awry, call it a failure of imagination of what else I might want to learn … we prefer the moniker of Expert over Newbie.

But at some point, our hours on the clock turn into experience which turns into the aforementioned mastery which turns into patterned ways of thinking and doing which turns into crispy-calcified mindsets which turns us into corpses in our coffins. (My—I took us to death in a hurry there. It’s up to you to figure out if it’s a literal or figurative death.)

You’ve heard of “beginner’s mind,” yes?

Picture a spectrum ranging from the Prepared Mind on one end and the Beginner’s Mind on the other.

Prepared vs Beginner Mind Spectrum

Because stereotypes provide efficient (albeit lazy—but I’m lazy) pathways to understanding, here are two for you:

  • The Prepared Mind person probably has one of those emergency kit things in their trunk (and maybe just maybe a safe room decked out with a lot of candles, ammo, and Spam. Spammo!). (To be clear: the Prepared Mind and the Paranoid Mind are not necessarily the same thing.) Prepared People do a lot of contingency planning, rely on their expertise to solve routine problems, derive pleasure in being subject matter experts, and figure out the parking situation waaaaay in advance.
  • The Beginner’s Mind person likely has a lot of wide-ranging classes and courses on the go (and might be barefoot a lot, like Matthew McConaughey, wearing a lot of loose-fitting linen). Words like spontaneous, curious, and novelty-seeking describe them to a T. Beginner’s Mind People are more interested in satiating their interest to learn and apply new things than to return to what they already know.

There is a time and a place for both the Prepared and Beginner’s Minds.

Design experts tell us that the Prepared Mind says, “Accumulate and use experience,” and the Beginner’s Mind says, “Torch your previous experience” … which is where the discomfort comes in, especially if we’ve hitched our self-worth to the I Know Things, A Lot of Things wagon.

Well. I’m not here to solve that self-worth issue today (not that I could even take a stab at solving it any other day anyways), but we can get you feeling a bit more welcoming towards the Beginner’s Mind, right? A little less hostile, perhaps?

My “Rookie Energy” experience

Rookie NametagI was raised by a Dad who extolled the virtues of The Five Ps: Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance. My Dad’s so wired for preparation he would have a deep underground bunker if he didn’t live above ground in a condo. I love preparedness too! I love knowing shit! I love being ready!

And yet.

I am also insatiably curious and if I’m not learning something new and doing something butterfly-inducing, I feel like parts of me are rotting and dying—one digit and then appendage at a time.

Writing this book (OMG YOU KNOW ABOUT MY BOOK DON’T YOU PLEASE TELL ME YOU KNOW ABOUT MY SOON TO BE PUBLISHED BOOK) has been a Beginner’s Bonanza. I didn’t know how much I needed to be a rookie until I embarked on this “new author odyssey.” I didn’t realize I was stuck in my ways of doing things … repeatedly doing what I already knew … feeling that sense of mastery, but dare I say masterfully bored?

  • I’m learning about the mysterious world of publishing: the myriad steps I had no idea existed—like just getting an email from Pat the Production Editor to take a look at the index draft. “There’s going to be an index?!” I asked, in full-on Rookie mode. There are people, waiting in the wings in the book publishing world, who specialize in making book indexes. WHO KNEW? Rookies don’t know these things. And then they do know them, and love that they got to know them and then want to learn more. (But for real: there will be six index pages in my book. WTF!!?)
  • I’m saying “WTF” a lot. Pardon me: it’s more like, “WTF!!?” It’s a delightful, uncredulous, “what’s happening now” kind of question—minus the judgment—that simply reveals what I don’t know yet and am happily flummoxed by. It’s like an intern making their way through Month One on the job. Lots of “WTF!!?”. New “Life Rule of Thumb” to live by: we need more Rookie “WTF!!?” moments in our lives. At least one every nine days we’re alive.
  • The audiobook!! I recorded it in a four-day flurry fueled by Rookie Energy (and also a lot of oat milk lattés—those too for sure). I was wild with excitement because it was a New and Exciting Experience where The Stakes Happened to Be High. I asked questions that I’d maybe have been shy to ask in my 20s and 30s and earlier 40s (like, “how am I supposed pronounce Nietzsche again?”). I let myself not know, not be good right away (or at all!), not know what was next. I still don’t know what’s next and I AM HERE FOR THAT “WTF!!?” FEELING. Here’s a little 90 second video I put on Instagram from a few weeks ago when I was doing the audiobook. Gahhhh!

Questions for you, my Rookie Friend

  • When was the last time you felt like a rookie? And how did it feel—was it horrifying? Neutral? Thrilling? How might you harness that Rookie Energy the next time you embark upon learning something new?
  • When was the last time you tried an idea that shouldn’t work, just to see if it might work with your special touch?
  • When was the last time you went serendipity hunting… keeping yourself open for accidental discoveries?
  • Are you failing a lot? It’s a sign you’re trying something new (i.e.: the entire point here), and as every design thinker knows, most new ideas are crappy. The key is to fail early and often, as they say … so how early and often are you failing?
  • When was the last time you said, “WTF!!?” with pure amazement, rather than frustration? How can you create a “WTF!!?” moment again soon?

C'mon, be a rookieLife’s too short to reach a learning limit, isn’t it? To cap out on our expertise? When we become experts we must pat ourselves on the back for our meaty accomplishments and then promise ourselves we’ll not dwell there for long. Let’s stray from the worn path of knowledge. Let’s tap into that Rookie Energy to learn new things—whether we become experts or not—just to experience (as Joseph Campbell says) “the rapture of being alive.” Let’s become beginners, again and again until we’re ironically tempted to call ourselves Experts at Being Beginners.

Jodi Wellman

P.S.: Have you heard the news that my book is available for preorder? Yes! It’s here: You Only Die Once: How to Make It to the End with No Regrets.

P.P.S.: Let’s connect on Instagram!

P.P.P.S.: Oh and just in case you missed it… I’d love you forever if you took 16 minutes out of your life to watch my TEDx talk!


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