Beginner’s Mind and Me

The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts. ― Bertrand Russell

This summer,  I wrote a trade article that was widely aggregated. It was my first piece for the wine industry, proper. (Most of my wine-related essays have been more personal.) It’s gratifying to share my professional experience this way. But here’s the thing: After six years in the industry, what took me so long?

I’ve always been hesitant to declare myself an expert. Not only do I find a huge advantage to being a generalist, but I deeply value learning on the job. So I’ve pursued work that challenges me in new ways. If I’ve inadvertently become an expert on anything, it’s uncertainty. I relish the concept of beginner’s mind.

Those close to me are probably snickering, because they’re surely familiar with my “know-it-all” voice.  Know-it-all doesn’t get a person very far, though. We learn more when we surrender to the expertise of others.

At the same time, a person who doesn’t assert some authority over their subject matter will wind up with less control. Where’s the balance? And at what point does a lifelong student claim mastery?

Maybe there are some martial arts students out there waving their hands with those answers. Alas, I didn’t study martial arts, but was more of a jazz dance kind of girl, complete with tacky recital costumes. So, I’m left wondering.

Not incidentally, the topic of my trade article was professional development. While researching it, I spoke with plenty of wine pros about how they help turn rookies on their staff into masters. I also sat down with highly trained sommeliers from around the world for an intensive tasting. Inevitably, these experiences gave me a good chance to noodle the concept of mastery.

I’m doing that, still.

Voice in the Vineyard

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“When people don’t express themselves, they die one piece at a time.” 

~Laurie Halse Anderson, Speak

“The gift turned inward, unable to be given, becomes a heavy burden, even sometimes a kind of poison. It is as though the flow of life were backed up.”      ~ May Sarton

Dark shit, no? When I read that tidbit from Ms. Sarton, I always imagine some kind of nasty infection one might contract in a hospital. I think of words multiplying in my system, thickening like sludge in my veins and eventually shutting me down altogether.

Silence: what a way to go. Surely there’s a way to avoid such a tragic fate.

It took years for me to understand that my need to write has something to do with a need to be heard. That my drive to do good work—which has veered toward workaholism—stems from a half-innocent, half-deranged desire to make a difference. And that all of it is partly traceable to some kind of anxious, middle-child complex. Hey! listen! I have something important to say!  Continue reading

Out Into the World

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Please click to watch this awareness-raising video.

 

 

Sometimes, I think I obey all the wrong rules.

When I packed for my excursion downtown yesterday to hear His Holiness the Dalai Lama, I double-checked the directives on the Emory University website, and did not bring any bags or recording devices. Turns out I could have brought a camera. Sitting 75 feet from the stage, I was perfectly situated to photograph the Dance of the Snow Lion, traditional throat-singers, and folk musicians who performed. And if I’d been like so many of the people around me, I would have just broken out the video camera, too. Then I really could have caught the sights and sounds of the event, which definitely reminded me that I was in Atlanta (as opposed to say, San Francisco).

“Have you been to the merch tent? They have hand sanitizer.”

“What is this, like, a Woodstock sort of thing?”

“Oh my god, y’all, he’s so cuuute!!”

Then there was the comment of my lawn neighbor, who pish-poshed six nearby protesters who who briefly chanted “Free Tibet!” Astonishingly, these people garnered absolutely no support—other than my own, of course—from a crowd of thousands.

“That’s inappropriate,” the woman behind me commented. “This is a religious event, not a political one.”

Continue reading