Gabriel Mizrahi (@GabeMizrahi) rejoins us to deep dive into why the fresh eyes of an amateur often spot what the professionals miss, and how we can get some of that so-called beginner’s luck to rub off on us no matter how experienced we happen to be.
What We Discuss with Gabriel Mizrahi:
- The experience paradox: while experience helps us solve problems with precision and focus, it also blinds us to alternative — sometimes better — solutions.
- Experts rely on technique and convention; amateurs are guided by insight and intuition.
- What Einstein understood about the importance of maintaining an amateur’s mindset when tackling problems no expert had yet solved.
- Why making it through the amateur stage is crucial for growth — or even beginning — any endeavor. (If you knew then what you know now, you might not have even gone through the trouble of starting!)
- How we can take advantage of our expertise without losing the beginner’s amateur insight.
- And much more…
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When we apply ourselves to a pursuit, it stands to reason that we get better at it over time. As dedicated experts, we pull off incredible feats today that stumped us as bumbling amateurs yesterday. The learner becomes the master, and progress marches on, right?
Not quite. As it turns out, there’s a lot we can lose as experts if we casually cast aside the advantages we had as amateurs. In this deep dive with Gabriel Mizrahi, we explore what these advantages are, how we can regain them as experts, and what we can do to keep the beginner’s mindset alive throughout our lives. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
Please Scroll down for Full Show Notes and Featured Resources!
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More About This Show
Not long ago, Jordan made a mistake while recording an interview that resulted in a file filled with more noise than conversation. In hopes of salvaging it, an audio engineer friend with years of experience was recruited to see what he could do to fix it. After exhaustive attempts employing every trick at his disposal, he had to admit defeat.
Then Producer Jason decided to take a crack at it. While Jason’s skillset overlaps with the engineer’s in a few places, resurrecting hopelessly botched audio from the great beyond isn’t exactly one of them. But after a few hours of tinkering with something ostensibly beyond his ken, he was able to rescue the interview.
It turned out Jason the amateur was willing to apply techniques that our highly trained, competent, and masterful audio engineer friend had skipped because past experience told him they weren’t worth trying.
So if an amateur could succeed where an expert had failed while trying to solve a relatively small problem in the grand scheme of things, perhaps it’s worth examining what we might be missing by approaching bigger problems as experts rather than amateurs.
The Experience Paradox
In most areas of our lives, we hunger to improve. We do more, learn more, grow more, acquire more — all in the pursuit of surmounting our ignorance and developing an expertise we can use to advance our lives and our careers. We know success requires hard work and a body of experience, so we naturally aim to become masters of our jobs, our crafts, and our lives — but there can be downsides to expertise.
“There are trade-offs to getting better,” says Gabriel. “The trade-offs are that you start to rely on what you believe is the right way to do something — or the way it’s worked for you in the past — at the expense of being flexible enough or open enough to find a better way of doing something.”
So how do we pursue mastery of a skill without getting jaded enough by experience to lose the fresh eyes of the amateur?
A Brief History of Amateurism
The word “amateur” comes from the French amateur, which in turn comes from the Latin word amator, or lover. In its earliest usage, the word amateur meant “someone who had a fondness, liking or taste” or something.
“Not somebody who’s bad at something or has never done it before,” clarifies Gabriel, “but somebody who does it because they love it…the idea of being a beginner is doing something because you enjoy it. And playing with that thing, whether it’s a new job or a craft or a sport — not because you want to become Andre Agassi, but because you just love hitting a ball over the net.”
So how do we become expert at something without losing the initial joy it gave us as amateurs?
Amateurism Is Necessary to Begin
Daydreaming about what being an expert at something must be like is fun. But actually taking the first step toward expertise means enduring the awkward but essential amateur phase. It may not be glamorous. Being relatively lousy and clumsy at something doesn’t get us accolades from high society or dates with supermodels. But it introduces us to what’s in store should we stick with it.
“We glorify the expertise of it,” says Gabriel, “but we don’t talk about Serena Williams 20 years ago where she was trying to get incrementally better at playing amazing tennis. We talk about Serena Williams in the last 10 years, winning championships year after year. That is what is sexy and exciting. The other thing is not sexy or exciting, but it is necessary to get there.”
We don’t glorify the phase where we struggle. We struggle to escape the beginning phase to get to the good stuff, not realizing how much good stuff is right there in front of us. But when we’re nostalgic about “the good old days,” this will be the time we think back upon fondly.
Also worth consideration: if you’re truly trying to become great at something, you never really stop learning. Ideally, you’re a perpetual amateur who will be as embarrassed by today’s accomplishments in five years as you are by where you were five years ago. That’s growth.
Listen to this episode in its entirety to learn more about how letting go of expectations helps preserve the fun of being an amateur, what we can do to get through a plateau, the liberating freedom to fail that an amateur enjoys, why we have to be willing to risk failure even when it’s no longer convenient, how many mistakes get made before a Pixar movie is released, how we can recall the beginner’s mindset even as we achieve some level of expertise, and lots more.
THANKS, GABRIEL MIZRAHI!
If you enjoyed this deep dive with Gabriel Mizrahi, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out at Twitter:
And if you want us to answer your questions on one of our upcoming weekly Feedback Friday episodes, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Resources from This Episode:
- The Rise of Citizen Science, Part I: A Principled Approach by Todd Hanson, Platypus
- Open: An Autobiography by Andre Agassi
- Pixar Animation Studios