On the Privilege of Being an Eternal Rookie

Last Thursday, I did something for the first time in my life. I welcomed a filming crew at my home, and we shot videos for a 9-episode video series. We also did two video interviews, and one LinkedIn Live – all in one day.

While I’m used to interviewing others, I’m entirely new to sitting in front of the camera and talking to the lens for the whole day. It all felt very exciting but also uncomfortable and mildly nauseating.

After shooting the video series, we moved to the interviews. My guest and I switched — we both got to be the interviewee and the interviewer. While I was being interviewed, my interviewer asked me a truly powerful question:

“If you were to pick an object that connects your past with your future, what would it be?”

I scanned the shelves of my bookcase and found a little figurine of a Cycladic Idol.

This statuette was an award I’d gotten during my first year at Hay Group (now Korn Ferry). It was Rookie of the Year Award.

The moment I saw it, I knew that this was the linchpin connecting my past with my future.

I realized that I’ve been a rookie countless times in my life. Sometimes wholeheartedly, sometimes fearfully. Sometimes proudly, sometimes in shame and embarrassment.

But a rookie I’ve been – and that’s all that matters to me.

Being a rookie is one of the few things that fill me with genuine pride – and I hope I have the privilege to be one, every year, and every day of my life.

A rookie is someone new to something – an absolute beginner, a greenhorn, a novice. To be a rookie means to be humble, to know that there are things you don’t know, to follow your curiosity, to experiment, to mess up, and to learn from your mistakes and failures. To be a rookie means to live expansively and bravely even when you feel fearful and small.

Being a rookie is definitely one of the hardest and one of the most thrilling things I’ve experienced in life.

Unlike other skills that improve with time, we tend to get worse at being a rookie. The older we get, the more attached we grow to our expertise and experience. We lose the willingness to look silly, feel the discomfort, admit that we don’t have all the answers. We hate the fact that our moves are not as sleek as those of the masters. We are terrified that our outcome will be less than perfect, and as a result – we often don’t even try to do the new thing.

But in spite of its inherent messiness, being a rookie is probably the number one skill for any leader today.

We are navigating uncharted territories every single day. We will inevitably mess up, take wrong turns, stumble, and fall.

So the big questions we all need to be asking ourselves today are notHow do I get this right? and, even worse, How can I BE right?

The big, important questions are the questions that help us overcome toxic perfectionism and live and learn bravely.

When I can tick all of these three boxes, I know that I’m on the right track:

  1. Am I learning and expanding instead of shrinking and shutting down? 
  2. Am I more curious than I am fearful?
  3. Am I getting better at being a rookie instead of getting attached to my identity as an expert? 


This week we have a new audio postcard for you. It comes from San Diego, from one of my all-time favorite CEOs and one of the most impressive rookies I know – Garry Ridge.

Garry is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the WD-40 Companya billion-dollar business with a 93% employee engagement index. 

WD-40 has been making history when it comes to harnessing the power of organizational culture. Garry truly embodies the philosophy of being a rookie. He says that the most powerful phrase that he learned as the CEO is: “I DON’T KNOW.” Even his email signature says “Ancora imparo” which, loosely translated means “I’m still learning.” And what I truly LOVE is that In WD-40 there are no mistakes, there are only learning moments, there are no managers, there are only coaches.

Here’s a beautiful message from Garry on how to navigate this difficult period.

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