Shoshin is a concept in Zen Buddhism in which a person holds on to the openness and eagerness of a beginner, even after having practiced a discipline for a number of years. Shoshin is my favorite mindset to approach any creative work. This Beginner’s Mind helps me to approach work with egolessness, plasticity, curiosity and courage—traits that lead to innovation, engagement, and creative breakthroughs.
Figured I’d start with the most woo-woo hippie-sounding overplayed Buddhist cliche right off the bat. You still with me? Good. Egolessness is the experience of setting your pride on the shelf long enough to make yourself truly vulnerable in your life, and in this case, creative process. If you’re inhabiting Shoshin, you lose the idea of yourself as an expert or master at what you do. You’re far more likely to invent a new way of expressing a feeling or idea when you free yourself from all the ways to do it “right.”
Squishy, pliable brains! Embracing the Beginner’s Mind allows you to be intellectually limber. If you don’t identify with being perfect at what you do, you can stretch yourself in new directions without risking your sense of self. Many problems have a multitude of solutions, so taking a strange and playful approach allows you to discover those less commonly used ones.
Beginners don’t know nothin’ except their vague, excited ideation of whatever they’re about to dive into. Beginners have no knowledge of the way it’s been done before, so they're more likely to walk down paths that haven’t yet been pioneered. Beginners embrace learning and creation with enthusiasm because they are not yet fatigued by the process. They’re not daunted by obstacles because they have no baggage about bad experiences, or negative feelings about past disappointments.
Okay, so the throughline of all these points is vulnerability. I know, that’s a scary word. Vulnerability gets a bum rap as being synonymous with weakness or being a loser. Cool! Those associations aren’t incorrect, but our common judgments of them are. By embracing the possibility of being wrong, by being open to failure, by rejecting the fear of looking like a dumdum, by poking around and walking into walls, by asking stupid questions because you don’t know any better—you transform from a straitlaced, color-in-the-lines perfect-o-bot into an intrepid, sparkling innovation powerhouse with a cherry on top. It’s magic. All you gotta do is be brave enough to be a weak, loser beginner.
Look, I’m never gonna be a Buddhist monk; those orange robes would look terrible with pink hair, I like fried chicken too much, and I’m never gonna go Britney and shave my head. But ever since I embraced a little Shoshin into my life, my creative process is far more enjoyable, productive, and successful. C’mon, you got this. Go out and fail like you’ve never been hurt before!