In my last post, I expressed disdain for what I view as a lame attempt to encourage people to progress regardless of their current state as a runner. I am of the philosophy that life is not meant to be compartmentalized, so whatever I lesson(s) I take from one facet of my life, I work to see how I can apply it to another. The gentleman who wrote this article forced me to reflect on how I must appear as a teacher. I pray that I don’t seem as distant as this guy seemed to me, but that’s probably not always the case.
As a music teacher, I see myself as a link between my students and the music they want to play. I want to be in the way as little as possible. There is no more heart-wrenching time in my classroom than when they are be evaluated. I give them a specific set of criteria to play the instrument and they stand in front of their classmates and get it done or not. I love several things about this experience, but among my favorites is how my students very rarely disparage one another. “You can do it!” when a classmate is hesitating. “Just do your best!” and of course, “Good job!” regardless of how they finished. These people really get it – that crossing the finish line, irrespective of the manner in which it is done, is to be respected.
However, the students that don’t play well – they know that they don’t play well. They feel like I feel as a new triathlete. It sucks to feel like 99% of the world is better than you are. Often, there are tears. Naturally, their friends will rush to comfort them. But their friends who are playing the hell out of Hot Cross Buns offer little solace to the poor soul who is still not sure where B is on the recorder. I imagine that this is because the student feels, however irrationally, that they should be where their friends are. I guess since I’m the teacher I should probably step in at this point. The conversation generally goes something like this:
Me: Why are you crying?
Kid: I suck.
Me: What makes you think you suck?
Kid: I hear everyone else and they sound better than I do.
Me: Do you want to sound better than you do?
Me: Don’t worry about them. How they do does not affect you. Do your best for you. Let’s talk about what we can do to make you even better.
Unless my arsenal of encouragement is running super low, I avoid saying things like “I was where you were.” “I feel like you feel.” You know why? Because in that context, I’m the elite musician. I appear too distant to be relatable. I just shut up and show them what I know how to do and remind them they are perfectly capable of doing so. If they are willing to take a risk, they improve. Everyone wins. The kid feels better, until the next time, of course.
“But Lady J,” you ask. “You say that it is irrational to expect yourself to be where your peers are at any given time. Why do you still prefer to train by yourself?” Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something and I have
about 9,900 to go in terms of triathlon. Unlike my adorable young musicians, I’ve got a fully grown ego. I know exactly what’s going on and I still don’t care. I recognize that I am not yet strong enough to keep going without being discouraged by the 99% if I’m around them too often. There is strength in acknowledging your weaknesses, no? I’m quite sure most will say the things my classmates will say. “You can do it!” “Do your best!” Well, I will, and, I know. If I don’t know you well, quite frankly, it rings hollow.
Maybe that’s why I have such a problem with this guy who wrote the article. I don’t believe it’s possible to encourage someone genuinely or effectively without either A) establishing trust or B) reminding the mentee to have reasonable expectations.