Beginner's mind is the theme of this blog and a foundation for leadership. To lead with a beginner's mind, come to know -- deeply -- that you've never been here before.
When you have been in a profession or a specific job for what may seem a long time, and you perceive the work as repetitive, your mind sees patterns in the work processes. You may perform daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and yearly routines. These patterns and routines create the illusion in your mind that "I've been here" and "I've done that." This is not beginner's mind. This is "been here, done that" mind.
The structure of work itself -- routine processes, planning calendars, to-do lists, deadlines, tax time, quotas, quarters, budget time, annual trade shows, staff meetings, scheduled time for checking email and voicemail, etc. -- helps create the illusion our experiences are repeated. Activities like the annual office Holiday Party may seem "the same" year after year. "The same" tired ceremonies, "the same" people, "the same" venue. And you may think to yourself "here we go again."
But the reality is, you've never been here before.
This past weekend I camped at a nearby national park. For a moment I had the notion that "I've been here before." As a child and many times between I've visited this park. But this time I realized deeply that I had never been there before.
Sitting still, I observed a mountain peak for about an hour. It is the largest, most memorable and recognizable peak in the park and I have seen it every time I've visited. In my mind, this peak is "the same" and has "never changed" in the years I've seen it and "I've been here before." But I've never seen it or been there before and will never see it or be there again.
Every blade of grass and every leaf on every tree on the mountain is different than a year before and different than it was a minute ago. The light and shadow on the mountain and the shape, the presence or non-presence of clouds is different every second. The peak loses some of its surface area every second, snow fields on its face grow or shrink. Every tree on its surface at every moment is growing or dying. Some that were alive yesterday are dead today. Saplings are sprouting. New wildflowers have bloomed. Different birds and animals and insects teem on its surface in different places doing different things. Different air blows across its surface and different water flows down ever changing rivulets. It is never the same, even for a millisecond.
And these are just the visible changes. If I could see subatomic vibrations, every bit of the mountain, inside and out, is moving and changing its position at unimaginable speeds, but this happens at such a minute and subtle level it is undetectable to my eyes. The rocks, which at that level are vibrating, look permanent and unchanging to my eyes. To me, the substance of the mountain looks "the same."
Now to the office. The room, the pictures, the books, the computers, and the pictures on the walls look "the same." I may be sitting in "the same" spot (though I am probably slightly shifted to the left or right, forward or backward). But the sunlight enters the room from a different angle, the leaves on the trees outside the window shimmer in a different pattern of light and dark, the wind blows them at a different cadence and wind speed, the birds chirp outside in a different pattern and the which birds are out there are also not the same. The amount of dust on the desk is different. The air flowing through the room is different. The shadows cast from the window into the room are different as the sun changes its angle through the day and through the year.
Yet in my mind "here I go again" in the same room, following the same routine, maybe feeling a sense of comfort in the "stability" of the pattern, the routine. Kidding myself that I've been here before.
Every day at the office we do something over again that we've never done before and will never do again. "The same" is an illusion. When we are caught in that illusion, our work seems repetitive and we may feel in a rut, a boring routine. But with a true beginner's mind, your work will never be routine because, despite how it feels, you've never been there before.