My New Year’s Resolution: Cultivating a Beginner’s Mind

Originally published by Calum McLelland ’16 on the Leverege Blog.

Looking Back on 2016

The year of 2016 was transformative for me, with many impactful events throughout. It started off on January 1st with a breakup, the first girl I’d loved. A few months later my Grandpa died, the first time I lost a family member. In May I graduated from Brown and left a few days later to travel Europe, my first time truly outside of the United States. From there I went to Venture For America’s training camp where I was surrounded by 170+ incredible Fellows, the first time I felt a greater sense of purpose in life. And after Training Camp I began atLeverege, my first real job and the launch of my career.

The year of 2016 was marked by many significant firsts for me. Some were incredible, some were terrible, but each of these firsts shared a common trait. After each of these events, I found many of my preconceptions shattered. Time and time again, I looked back and wondered how I had been so ignorant and naïve, how I hadn’t seen things as I did after each event.

Reflecting on this past year, I’m struck by how much I’ve learned and grown as a person. But it’s this very learning and growth that make me realize how little I truly know. If I look back on a single year and wonder how I could have once thought so differently, what will it be like in another year? In 5 years? 10?

My New Year’s Resolution

As such, my resolution for 2017 is to bring a beginner’s mind to everything I do. I resolve to remind myself that there’s so much that I don’t know, that even my strongest beliefs can change and should be questioned. I’ve come to believe that this beginner’s mindset is one of the most important things to cultivate. When we think we know everything, when we choose not to try new things, when we don’t bring curiosity and openness to our everyday life, that’s when we stagnate. That’s when we stop learning and growing and moving forward as human beings.

However, a resolution is nothing without concrete actions and steps. So to achieve this resolution, here’s what I’ll be doing this year:

Resolution Action Plan

Meditating 30 minutes per day.

Meditation is a habit that I’ve been developing over the past few months and will be critical in cultivating a beginner’s mind. Meditation provides the foundation, it trains my mind to notice when it’s drifted into certain patterns of thinking, to notice when I’m feeling too certain about something or resistant to something new.

Try new things/be uncomfortable. 

I think that a significant barrier to cultivating a beginner’s mind is the fear of being out of my comfort zone. It’s so easy to do what I know and not push myself. By intentionally putting myself into new situations or experiences, I’ll learn to push past discomfort. I’ll also learn what being a beginner is like, so I can recognize that state of mind and bring it to other experiences too.

My first step was starting CrossFit on January 2nd. Already I’ve been humbled and I’ve seen how much I have to learn. I love it.

Read 5 hours a week.

Many of the things that I’ve come to learn about myself and the world over this past year have been things I’ve heard for years. For whatever reason, I simply didn’t believe the wisdom until I’d experienced it myself. This has given me a profoundly deeper appreciation for the teachings and insights of others.

Books are an amazing way to draw on the knowledge and experience of brilliant people. Books force me to think, to remember how much I don’t know, and to challenge my opinions. Reading is the metaskill.

I choose 5 hours per week because it’s not an unrealistic amount, a mere hour per weekday, but over the course of a year that’s over 10 full days of reading and many books read.

Quarterly Day of Reflection

Once every 13 weeks I’ll take an entire day, free of any obligations, to sit down and reflect on everything that’s happened since the last reflection. I did this for the first time recently and it was an incredible experience. These days of reflection allow me to evaluate where I am and where I want to be. I’ll be able to examine how successful I’ve been in cultivating a beginner’s mind and make changes as need be.

I’ve learned that year-long goals are difficult to sustain. We start off working hard at that goal but lose initiative in the middle of the year, only reinvigorated when the end of the year approaches and we realize we haven’t met our goals. By breaking up my year into quarters, my timeline remains long enough to achieve significant returns but short enough to keep me focused. And if something isn’t working I can fix it without waiting a full year to make the necessary changes.

2017 and Beyond

Overall, I’m so appreciative of the 23 years I’ve lived so far. I’m grateful for my wonderful family, for the inspiring Fellows of Venture For America, for the awesome team at Leverege, and for too much more to list here. 2016 was a transformative year and I’m so excited to find out what 2017 will bring. Happy New Year!

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