How ‘beginner’s mind’ helped cure my ‘imposter syndrome’

I asked AI for help writing this, because the ideas are all in here…

…but finding the time to really sort them out from blank page to blog post has been challenging.

AI-generated writing, un-edited, most often proves unsatisfying—reminiscent of 100-level college class, B-student vibes with kind of a “put on” personality or voice…

Heres how it opened describing imposter syndrome:

Imposter syndrome, a term that strikes a chord with many, especially women, has cast its shadow over countless lives. This pervasive feeling of inadequacy, of masquerading as a fraud despite external success, can be profoundly debilitating.

Thats a little much! But I do kind of struggle with wondering how I measure up to others, if I am behind or if my life choices up til now have put me at some kind of disadvantage, to the extent that when I heard about imposter syndrome, it resonated enough with me to pay attention.

So, I really must personally unpack my recent experience leading a sunrise yoga session at a business conference for nutrition industry executives, drawing on the concept of “beginner’s mind,” setting AI aside.

Having just completed my yoga teacher training in May and immediately embarking on vacation season, I hadn’t had much time to actually teach, but I thought I’d offer my services to my work organization for the yoga they were offering as part of their annual conference, now that I was certified as a way to dive in head-first and make the experience personal and special. Our organization was celebrating its 5oth anniversary, and I was the employee who had been with the organization longer than anyone else, building my communications career through learning on the job over all these years.

I spent the weeks leading up to the event casually putting together a sequence, getting more and more focused as the live date got closer, recording myself to see how I was coming across, writing out notes to help me internalize things more. I started with the idea of building on the sequence I’d done for my teaching final exam, but had to shorten it, since I only had 45 minutes allotted.

I thought about what kind of words I’d open with, how I’d help the group consider setting an intention and how I’d put them—and myself—at ease to enjoy the flow, and decided I would go with something from one of my favorite books, “Zen Mind, Beginners Mind.”

So my thoughtful preparations contributed to quelling pangs of imposter syndrome that may have been bubbling up in the anticipatory nervousness leading up to the session. Throughout my preparation, I drew on my learnings from the book and contemplated how the beginner’s mindset could also help combat issues with imposter syndrome—or fear of failure.

The book explores Zen Buddhism’s core philosophy of letting go of expectations, unburdened by preconceived notions or the weight of past experiences.

In the context of imposter syndrome, this means releasing the constant need to measure up to an idealized version of yourself. It’s important to acknowledge that nobody is perfect, and everyone, regardless of their success, has room for growth. By letting go of the expectation to execute perfectly and trusting the vibe I’d establish at the outset with the group, I freed myself from worry about my performance. I was strengthened by the freedom of being a beginner and using that status as a way to relate to anyone in the group because we all can be beginners if we have the right mindset.

In Zen, “mistakes” are not seen as failures but as opportunities for growth and learning. This philosophy can be applied directly to imposter syndrome. Instead of seeing our errors as confirmations of our incompetence, we can view them as stepping stones on the path to improvement. Suzuki’s teachings encouraged me to embrace my experience and whatever unfolded as part of the journey, with curiosity—to learn from it and feel it, rather than judge how I did against my recollections of my favorite, more experienced teachers.

Another benefit of beginner’s mind is that it sets you up to trust the process. In the journey to overcome imposter syndrome, it’s essential to trust that growth takes time, progress may not always be linear, and there are good and bad less good days at any point along the way. Suzuki’s teachings encouraged me to have faith in my own potential and the process of self-discovery, rather than dwelling on what could go wrong or whether I was ready.

While incorporating the principles of beginners mind helped me combat imposter syndrome and confidently lead the ocean-front sunrise session, it’s important to understand that this mindset isn’t a one-time fix. It’s an ongoing practice.

To really keep things fresh and interesting, I also made a last-minute choice to begin the session standing up instead of on the ground, given it was a little chilly early in the morning, and the tenor of things was more with the purpose of invigoration and energy-building. Plus, I needed to simplify things a little to accommodate a broader audience.

These were not necessarily regular practitioners of yoga, or people you might expect would attend a studio. There was a good possibility of some people being completely inexperienced and just wanting to try something new—and get that front row seat to the beautiful ocean at sunrise that the session promised. The representative of the event’s sponsoring company herself had expressed that she was “terrible at yoga” and I had to reassure her not to worry because you can’t fail at yoga—I myself was a beginner teacher and couldnt necessarily do all the hot-dog poses people sometimes think of when they imagine an experienced yogi. We all had to start somewhere.

At the same time, as I learned the night before I would teach, chatting with attendees at the opening reception, there would be former teachers and advanced practitioners in the group, too.

I hadn’t anticipated there would be an actual man from India in the front row, as well!

I took to the front of the space with the class facing the ocean behind me, making a mental note of the geographical landmarks I’d rely on to help my cueing, so I wouldn’t, as a beginner teacher, have to make the mental translation to support mirroring (my left, their right, and vice versa). There was a large wall on one side and the ocean that extended around the cliff that sat to the other side. And, eventually I did manage to drop in the actual “left” and “right” directions correctly, too, in some cases, once I got going.

Setting the tone to make everyone comfortable, I recited the opening of “Zen Mind, Beginners Mind,” that said, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

I invited the group, acknowledging there were people of all experience levels present, to approach the session with a “beginner’s mind” and be open to exploring the possibilities they might encounter on the mat as they moved their bodies—and to carry that sense of possibility forward through the rest of their conference experience.

We flowed together and enjoyed a peaceful savasana, listening to the ocean waves kissing the cliffs that surrounded us. I closed the practice with a meditation, offering the group words I hoped they would receive, reflect upon and regift to others in their circles:

May you be safe.

May you be healthy.

May you be happy.

May you live a life of ease.

May all your dreams come true…

I closed the practice wanting to properly position my “namaste” as a greeting, respectfully honoring the origins of yoga as well as the people who shared the practice with me. The group remain engaged until the end, and I was very happy with how it all went.

But the Indian man spoke after the final namaste, saying “What about om? We must om. Do you know om?” I had opted against chanting om with the group, as it wasn’t quite authentic for me, and I wasn’t sure about doing it for a business meeting yoga experience. But I rolled with his suggestion and opened the floor for him.

“Oh yes,” I replied. I know om. “Would you like to lead us in closing with om?” And he did, and everyone joined it, and it was wonderful!