My Best Teachers

If you treat an individual…as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

One of the greatest privileges in life is that of teaching, coaching, mentoring or leading others in any setting or of any age. To do so requires an unusual combination of skills, chief among them are the ability to radiate a certain quality of knowledge or even wisdom and the willingness to be at rest in yourself while occasionally making others feel uncomfortable by your radiant presence.

Looking back, my best teachers were those who made me feel the most uncomfortable, challenged and capable of reaching that which was beyond my reach at the time. Their very presence compelled my finest expression – in thought, word and action – no matter how I was feeling or they were feeling at the time. They were empathetic and understanding without being sympathetic and subject to my limitations, both real and perceived.

Another common denominator to this rare and distinguished group was (and is!) the ability to help me navigate from where I was to where they knew I could be. Just writing this makes me realize that they believed in me more than I believed in myself at certain critical points. This is the very essence of an effective teacher, mentor and leader.

You cannot give what you don’t have and the wonderful thing about teaching, mentoring and leading is that you find yourself face-to-face with yourself as you are presently configured. You realize very quickly what you have and can therefore deliver and what you don’t and must therefore develop in yourself if you are to continue to provide guidance in that area. Luckily those whom you are guiding are typically consumed with their own process to the point that they do not see you addressing your own deficiencies, especially if you do not draw unnecessary attention to your process.

A great teacher will humbly admit that he is continually learning from his students and from the process of teaching and sharing, without losing his authority. A great teacher is, in this sense, a great student first and a great teacher second. Put otherwise, the way a teacher relates to the learning process will tend to condition the way his students relate to the learning process.

It’s a beautiful process when you think about it. It’s not so much the circle of life, where facts and information are recycled from generation to generation, but the spiral of life, where the ongoing revelation of wisdom is encouraged. This is the catalyst that transforms the human experience from history repeating itself to moving from glory unto glory.


Taking Time to Grow

Taking Time to Grow by Mary Mapes Dodge

‘Mamma! mamma!’ two eaglets cried,
‘To let us fly you’ve never tried.
We want to go outside and play;
We’ll promise not to go away.’
The mother wisely shook her head:
‘No, no, my dears. Not yet,’ she said.

‘But mother, dear,’ they called again,
‘We want to see those things called men,
And all the world so grand and gay,
Papa described the other day.
And – don’t you know? – he told you then
About a little tiny wren,
That flew about so brave and bold,
When it was scarcely four weeks old?’

But still the mother shook her head;
‘No, no, my dears, not yet,’ she said.
‘Before you see the world below,
Far bigger you will have to grow.
There’s time enough to look for men;
And as for wren’s – a wren’s a wren.
What if your freedom does come late?
An eaglet can afford to wait.

Haste, they say, makes waste. But why? There are undoubtedly many reasons why this is true, chief among them is the tendency to miss important facts, factors, steps or phases in what would otherwise be a coordinated, coherent and complete creative process.

Childhood should never be rushed. There are important phases in childhood development that, skipped or hurried, result in flat spots that can be quite challenging to overcome later in life. And later may be sooner than you think! “Terrible twos,” for instance, are more often than not the direct result of an improperly managed infant. Toddlers are not inherently evil and neither are teenagers. Work with an awful teenager for any amount of time and you can quickly identify what was missed, overlooked or circumvented in his or her earlier years.

Parents and caregivers bare the burden of responsibility for the end product, except in cases where there is a legitimate limitation, such as a chemical imbalance or a genetic abnormality. A childhood must be carefully managed and custom-tailored to each child. There is no magic formula.

Each and every child born to this earth comes with a unique set of potentialities and needs. In this sense, every child is a “special needs” child. The perfect mix of nourishment, encompassment and supervision for one child is rarely optimal for another. A wren’s a wren and to the degree that we forget that we stunt the growth and development of children everywhere.

Progress, Obstacles and a New Approach

Personal trainers and fitness coaches are a special breed of people.  They are “people people,” observant, good listeners, effective planners and capable of adjusting the plan on the fly, but most of all a good trainer is good at creating and maintaining motivation in his or her clients. 

An excellent trainer is all that and more.  Like good trainers, the best trainers are good with people, skillful motivators and creative in their work, but they are also expert at managing pressure.

Progress in fitness is generally made by a combination of two things: (1) consistency and (2) pushing slightly beyond present capacity, when the timing is right.  Under-exertion is just as dangerous to the process as over-exertion.  As in all things, there is a sweet spot in the middle. 

I’ve spoken with a number of top-notch personal trainers over the years and every one of them has noted that they generally see two types of clients.  The first type is likely to push through barriers, always doing the extra repetition, walking the extra step and going the extra minute, while the second type of person is likely to retreat, collapse, hesitate or quit when met with obstacles.  Do these sound familiar?

Growth invariably involves pushing slightly beyond present limitations.  It is not always the most comfortable thing, but for some reason you always feel better when you push yourself at the right time.  While we’re on the topic of comfort, it is worth mentioning that the worship of comfort is a top cause of stagnation and dissipation.  Comfort in and of itself is wonderful, useful and desirable, but the worship of comfort often lurks at the root of stagnant or disintegrative patterns.

The next time you meet an obstacle in yourself, push a little farther than you typically would.  There is no need to force the process, but there is the need to bring just enough extra pressure to bear that you don’t collapse at the foot of the barrier over and over again. 

I’ve often found in my own experience that the barriers I’ve met were less difficult to overcome than I had made them out to be.  So another way to approach this matter is to avoid making a big deal out of challenges that lie ahead before you take your first stab at it.  Approaching obstacles in the spirit of victory rather than in temerity, anxiety or frustration creates useful momentum in any challenge. 

Confidence peppered with hubris is unattractive at best.  Confidence tempered with humility, on the other hand, is always useful.

Have fun with this today and this week.  I know I will!


Optimal Living and the “Flow” Experience by Gregg Hake

Think about the people closest to you.  Would you say that they are deeply enjoying every aspect of their lives?  Would you qualify their experience as optimal, their lives as exceptional?  

Now, let’s make this a little more personal.  What about you?  Are you happy?  Do you find joy in the little things as well as the large?  Does your every thought, word and action bless and enhance the world around you?  Do you feel challenged and inspired by every area of your life and under some pressure to constantly upgrade your skills?

If you feel there is room for improvement, I highly recommend a thought-provoking book by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi called “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” (available at Amazon  Mr. Csikszentmihalyi proposes that the “flow” experience, the state of deep enjoyment which leads to growth of the self, can be known regardless of the nature of outer circumstance.

A mentor of mine once shared a pearl of wisdom with me.  He said, “It’s not so much what happens to you, it’s how you handle what happens that matters.”  Here is a case in point.  Another friend of mine alerted me via Facebook that her house had burnt to the ground last week.  She was dropping her three children off at school and came back to a pile of smoldering ashes.  A tragic event to be sure, but her attitude was forward-looking, she was deeply thankful for the safety of her children and her words carried a tone of resolve to not just move on, but grow from the experience.

The key to a happy life was not locked in a time capsule in a previous era, in fact, it is available to anyone, here and now.  It may require some renovation in the way you’ve looked at your life, those around you and what you do, but true happiness is at hand.  I encourage you to listen to Mr. Csikszentmihalyi speak on the topic, and then finish the post below.

I encourage you to put more and more of your everyday life in the flow channel.  Regretting the past, dreading the future, casting aspersions on the world around you inevitably block the flow in you and through you.  Be willing to lose yourself in everything you do today.  Enjoy every morsel of it as you would your favorite cookie or fondest memory.  Refrain from pre-qualifying what you have to do as being “good” or “bad” and instead focus on how you can leave the situation or conversation in better shape than you found it.

“It is not easy to transform ordinary experience into flow, but almost everyone can improve his or her ability to do so” notes Mr. Csikszentmihalyi.  Dare to make the ordinary extraordinary!  Look for the opportunities for action, for progress, for growth and development in your life and in your to others and the community at-large.  Note the temporary obstacles, but don’t dwell on them.  Nobody loves a hater.

Be willing to embrace new challenges and take the time to develop the necessary skills.  Find that upper zone Mr. Csikszentmihaly described as “optimal,” not for yourself, but for the rest of humanity!