Why do we get so embarrassed when we’re learning a new sport or skill or craft? I call it beginner’s shame. 

PERSON: “Are these your paintings?”
US: “I mean, yes… but like, I’m JUST STARTING and I haven’t had any OFFICIAL TRAINING and this is just a HOBBY, and these paintings here aren’t my BEST ONES, you know, and uh…”
I notice it in the surf, girls who are learning, yet sit out on the shoulder and don’t go for waves when they roll in, simply because some old dude is going for it, too.
And in the girls’ head she has this running dialogue like “well… they’re probably a better surfer and i’m just going to fall off anyway so, you know, I’ll just wait for another one.”


I get it. We don’t really allow much space for people in this world who are just… average at something.


We have a worldwide hard-on for the HYPER PRODUCTIVE or the SUPER FREAKISHLY TALENTED. Anything before that is invisible.
And yes, it’s true. The Olympics wouldn’t be nearly as thrilling if it was a bunch of dads with beer guts who just started jogging six weeks ago and have to stop halfway through the race and walk the rest of the way, wheezing. Or would it. The #dadbod appreciation movement swept the world for a reason.
Surf comps wouldn’t be so fun to watch if it was a bunch of beginners shakily getting to their knees, wobbling across the face and throwing up their hands going ‘woo! I’m flying!’

But life is not TV.

People don’t just bust out the womb ready to surf fifteen-foot monsters. The process of learning itself is one of the juiciest parts of it. Sometimes, it’s all of it.


So you know what? Honestly?
Some of us don’t want to surf fifteen-foot monsters. Some of us don’t ever strive to have our paintings in an art gallery. Maybe we don’t want to learn a language so that we can liaise with foreign diplomats. Maybe we just like how it feels to memorize and practice new words. Maybe we just want to do these things because they’re fun? Because it feels expansive, and scary and deviates from the mundane and expected in some small way? In this way, beginner’s shame starts to not make much sense.

Some of us feel like we can’t claim these things as ours because we will never master it or make money from it. This is where beginner’s shame can come from. 

For me, I think that’s just a result of our societal conditioning. There’s more to life than that outward appearance of traditional success. There’s how these things make you feel, how they breathe life into your day, how they make you feel strong or sexy or dynamic.

So let me just say this once; you are legitimate in whatever sport or skill or craft you’re pursuing, at whatever stage you’re at. No matter how much of a boob you think you look like (and hey, maybe you do.) But you are JUST as legitimate as the person sitting next to you twice your age who probably started the thing when you were still in your dads bag.

>> Get started with surf-style training. For surfers & non-surfers!

My advice for beginner’s shame?

You are training your body to move a NEW WAY
Your mind to twist and turn in new angles of CREATIVITY
There is stuff you don’t know yet, but you will.
OWN your beginner-ness, whole heartedly.
When you’re learning
And everything is new and frustrating and exciting.


If you’re learning, say, surf; paddle out intentionally. Plant yourself in the middle of the line-up of twenty dudes.
Hustle and go for waves just like everyone else.
Claim that wave, not because you have some radical maneuvers to show off with, but because you have a late drop to fail. A bottom turn to completely ruin, a messy wipeout to complete, like a queen. When you pop up  to the surface feeling like you just had a spontaneous enema from the angle at which you hit the water, you can wear that arsehole pain with pride.
Thank you very much!

You did it; you did the thing that most people spend their lives too scared to do.
Can you believe you gave it a shot, and you went back for more?

>> 7 tutorials to learn to surf on concrete!

If you’re learning a new language, accept that there is literally no way to not embarrass yourself a million times a day, and just crack on.

Yes, you may have accidentally told your new boyfriend’s grandmother that you are quite horny today, instead of telling her that the weather is quite hot today. Think about when you were in primary school, and there was that new kid at school who was learning English and you laughed at his accent. Consider this your lifetime penance, and wear it with a smile. Brave are those who try to learn a new language in their adult years.

Here’s the thing.

Whatever it is you’re a beginner at. If you claim that space for what it is, like, I am here, and I am learning, and I do not have to play down how special it is to me. You are creating that space for others to learn without shame, too.

And that, to me, is way cooler than any prodigy or insanely skilled person blowing up the world stage.

Because if you make that space,
If you treat it like, I am HERE and I am MF LEARNING like a boss
You are creating that space for other people to learn without beginner’s shame too.
And that- to me – is exponentially cooler than any prodigy or insanely skilled person blowing up the world stage.

Now go get it.

Like this post? Follow Caitlin on Substack.

>> Learn to surf with us. All-girl surf trips for beginner & intermediate.