Beginnings are hard, but there is something especially hard about starting again something you used to be good at. When you are a beginner, you expect things to be hard, and while you may not like being bad at a new skill, you accept that it’s part of the process.
But when you used to be really good at something and are now out of practice, it can be very difficult to come to terms with re-learning all over again. You’re used to a certain level of performance, you already put in the work, and you may even feel the same sense of confidence as before despite your actual performance. Maybe the words just won’t form themselves on the page like they used to, or your fingers can’t find the right keys, or you’re just in a different place and have trouble connecting that to your writing or your music.
Of course, once you get the ball rolling again, you’ll usually learn faster to get back to where you were. After all, the practice is now just about reviving old techniques and habits rather than creating entirely new ones. Depending on how good you were, and how long it’s been since you last wrote or played or ran or lifted or sang, that catch up period can take a while.
Since it’s all ground you’ve already traveled, it can feel especially tedious, lacking the excitement and fascination it held the first time you were discovering it.
Why am I bringing this up? I’m writing again and finding that I have a lot of ideas I want to share, but the words don’t seem to want to align correctly on the page. My phrasing seems off and everything feels stilted and stale. Where I used to feel confidence that my words would connect with people, now I find that I’m afraid they will embarrass or offend, or simply ring untrue. I read my old articles and they feel beyond my abilities, like reading some author I admire but will never equal.
I’m getting around this by reminding myself that I’m basically a beginner all over again. I will go through the same process of reeducating myself on how to write and practice writing everyday, as I did when I was first starting. I have set the bar pretty low: just write a little bit every day. Put words out there.
And hopefully, after a few months or years, this second starting will have me a little bit further along than I was, and I will have rediscovered my old passion all over again, maybe with a bit more appreciation of the work that went into it in the first place. In that, I have already learned not to take writing, or any kind of literacy whether that is linguistic, musical, mathematical, or physical, for granted.
Ease of expression in any field is often a hard-won ability and it can be easy to forget that when you’ve been doing it for so long. I have often been challenged to meet a student’s frustrations in math or writing with patience and understanding when I see them struggling with a medium of expression I take for granted. There have even been moments when a student is struggling with a concept that is so fundamental from my perspective I can’t even see their problem. All I see is a sticking point. I have become so far divorced from fundamentals that I can’t even speak to them.
That challenge comes in cycles. I was a good tutor because I had to relearn math, then I got further from being a beginner. I was a good coach because I had gone from being weak to being strong, and I could relate to my students, then many of the early insights became crystallized. But then I’d go back; over the years, I’ve started and stopped repeatedly, or gone down different paths that forced me to revisit fundamentals all over again.
That’s always kept me as a beginner, always open to new ideas and constantly malleable. I’m always learning, always feeling things out, always asking for help. And as a result, I’m always teaching.
Writing though…that’s never been something I’ve walked away from for any length of time. Until now.
So, when I find myself struggling to match my own past writings, I can be humbled into compassion for anyone struggling to learn a new skill or come back to old passions, and that’s certainly a new kind of learning.