Employees are continually asking for help with their career development. No matter what we do to help, they can sometimes get in their own way on their journey to success. That’s because becoming an “expert” in their field or domain can sometimes lead to a stalled career. There is actually a simple way to prevent this from happening to them; a way that could accelerate career growth and ultimately their career success.

Before getting into this alternative way, let’s first look at why becoming an expert can sometimes lead to limiting behaviors.

Experts become very knowledgeable in their field of study. They learn to recognize patterns that enable them to solve problems quickly, oftentimes without the need for additional learning, but regrettably, at times without exploring alternatives and thinking innovatively. This is because past knowledge and experiences can get in our way by making us fall into habits of thinking and not explore new possibilities or innovative solutions. Of course, there are times when an expert discovers new ways of doing things, however, they are fewer than when conducting their work through fresh eyes or a “beginner’s mind” to evaluate possibilities. According to the late Shunryu Suzuki in his book, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, “In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.”

With the beginner’s mind, or Shoshin, we approach the world and each situation as if it is the first time we have encountered it. We look at it with new eyes. We let go of previous experiences and judgements and establish a clear mind for problem solving with an innovative mindset. This doesn’t mean forgetting past knowledge or experiences – however, it does mean not letting the past limit what we can accomplish in the future.

This might seem to imply that all the time and effort spent becoming an expert was wasted. On the contrary – that is not the idea at all. Expertise is valuable and important. In fact, it sets us on a path to deepen our expertise. It is just that it is important to remember that being an expert can limit our ability to gain new knowledge and understanding every now and then because we cannot see clearly what is right in front of us due to engrained habits of thinking. With a beginner’s mind, we purposely attack challenges or problems with a fresh perspective that allows exploration of previously unconsidered possibilities.

"With the beginner’s mind, we approach the world and each situation as if it is the first time we have encountered it"

So, how does this link to career success? To answer that, let’s explore skill development a bit. At the early stages of developing a skill, we start to build our beliefs, attitudes, and patterns of thinking. As we get more experience, the skill becomes easier and easier thereby requiring less thought. It’s almost as if we go on auto-pilot and in essence, stop learning. In order to move to the next level of a skill or expertise, we need to act as lifelong learners by letting go of old patterns and utilize a clear, beginner’s mind to learn new ideas and continue mastering the skill. As we do that, we are given addition responsibilities enabling career growth – and ultimately, career success!

Wondering how one can cultivate a beginner’s mind – easily? Follow these easy steps:

• BE CURIOUS. Try to understand things more deeply by asking questions. It may sound counter-intuitive, but simple questions will allow you to expand your discovery. Go back to the basics as if this is the first time you’ve seen or heard this information.

• LET GO OF PRECONCEPTIONS. Past experiences serve as guide to quickly solve problems, but they may also limit new solutions. Forget what you already know. Pretend you know nothing and therefore you won’t dismiss new information.

• OPEN YOUR MIND TO EXPLORATION AND A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES. Be willing to take things slow and do some research to find new information. With a beginner’s mind, everything is new and anything is possible.

• RELIEVE YOURSELF OF THE PRESSURE OF EXPECTATIONS. Allow yourself to be surprised at the outcome. If you know the end ahead of time, you won’t have as much fun learning. Don’t start with the “end in mind” – let it find you.

• PUT YOUR EGO ASIDE AND ENJOY THE PROCESS. It is okay not to have all of the answers ALL of the time. Don’t take yourself so seriously; enjoy being playful. No one will think less of you while you are on this journey.

Individuals can jump start their career success today by adopting a beginner’s mind. This may sound daunting to some, but it shouldn’t be. Individuals just need to evaluate their skills, especially those they believe they have mastered. They can pick just one to start and try some of the tips above and see if using a beginner’s mind enables them to expand their thinking, explore new possibilities and gain more experience. After that, it is about putting it into practice and demonstrating their newfound skills, abilities and knowledge. Before long, they’ll be on their way to increased responsibilities and greater career success!