Confidence is Overrated

I fell off the emailing this past few weeks because we had the good fortune to graduate one group of students and then start right away working with another. It has been a whirlwind turn around, but it is worth it. As our sangha grows we become increasingly blessed with more and more wonderful, talented and exceptional people.

Working with aspiring teachers is a lot like working with new yoga students; there is a palatable tension, a heightened level of self consciousness. They are both vulnerable and scared. It is not often as adults that we put ourselves in new situations, ask ourselves to move outside our comfort zone, or force ourselves to learn a new skill. And entering a room of “others” is a daunting task at the best of times. We hope it’s going to go OK, that we won’t be judged harshly, that we’ll make friends. Add to that the fact that you are going to be forced to do some public speaking and try to instruct others and - truly, it is  enough to make any grown-up cry. Anyone who gets up in front of people and tries to teach them is, to me, a superhero. It is a courageous act.

Even if they are bad at it.

When getting feedback, teacher trainees often get this one one piece of advice, “be more confident.” Yet, asking someone to be “more confident” in this situation is like asking a blade of grass to be more like a tree. A blade of grass has no more knowledge of how to be a tree than a new teacher knows how to “be more confident” (whatever that means).

Your lack of confidence isn’t the problem. The advice is. Like many well meaning mentors, teachers will often fall back on old tropes like “be more confident.” But, that advice is not helpful. How can you be more of something you are not?

It is OK to not be confident. It is OK. You do not have to be more than you are. Be nervous and jittery. It is OK.

Confidence comes with competence. The more I understand, the better equipped I feel. The better equipped I am, the more I can offer. I gain confidence as my competence improves. My competence improves through study and practice. You know… yoga.  

So truly, the best advice is; get comfy with being bad. Because, doing something well is not a matter of doing it right. It is about allowing yourself to be bad. Truly it is.

In each new training cycle I tell our students, “Get up here and fail spectacularly, please. This is the best place to be really, really bad at what you do, so jump in with both feet and blow it!” Because, you will find that, despite your discomfort, you will live to see another day. And you are teaching yourself a vital skill; how to try again.

If you are not confident. That is OK. You are here and you are trying. That will be enough for today.

This is loving kindness.

And isn’t this what we want for our students? You can’t teach what you don’t know. Accepting your discomfort and doing it anyway will help you help you find the tools to help others do the same.

That way, when that very new, adult, student comes to you and says, “I’m no good at yoga,” instead of falling back on, “that’s OK, yoga is for everyone!” you can confidently say, “that’s OK, I’m learning too.”

Welcome back to school yogis.

The Trail or the Road

This weekend we took a troop of boys to a cabin the size of a postage stamp. The adventure was maddening, sweet, fun and exhausting. My kids and their friends are not super rambunctious, so we don’t fall into that stereotype of house full of boys but, they are still children. They still have no idea what an “indoor voice” is. They still get amped when given the opportunity to spend days in the woods together.

When I am stressed I find their noise and chaos unnerving. The constant energy of children can overwhelm me. I have to work really hard to not be annoyed and irritated with them. I need moments of silence. I need respite and space.

And sometimes I am just an asshole parent.

Luckily, I am blessed with a mate who, when I reach my limit, sends me away. I can comfortably say “I need a minute” and without judgement or shame, he just nods, waves and says, “I get it.”  

This weekend I needed one of those breaks so I hopped on my bike and went up the road. In the woods I have two options for bike riding; trail riding or road riding. In my judgey mind, people who trail ride are the real deal; hard-core nature bikers. Road riders are softies.

I am a road rider. The road is my jam. That’s how I like it: a manageable, challenge. I just want to ride. I don’t want to think about avoiding rocks and trees and ruts in the road. I don’t want to have to turn on all my awareness feelers. I want to turn them off.

This got me thinking: I wonder if people choose their exercise based on what their mind needs. Team sports demand a kind of hyper awareness. You try and anticipate what the other team is going to do, you pay attention to what your teammates are doing. If a person doesn’t use those observation skills in their day-to-day, then turning them on would be stimulating, relaxing even. On the other hand, if you are the kind of person who spends a lot of time observing, and anticipating actions, choosing a sport that demands the same kind of mental acuity will be taxing.

Or maybe I just like riding on the road.

As a younger woman, I measured my comfort zones against an imaginary ruler that always said, “you do not measure up.” My boundaries were, for the most part, representative of my cowardice, my rigidity.

But, boundaries are not limitations. They are an understanding, an acceptance of self. A good, healthy boundary gives us a feeling of security and safety. It allows us to explore our landscape without distraction. Understanding our boundaries is an imperative to learning how to endure the discomfort of being alive (and it keeps us from becoming monsters to the people we love).

This is why, when we are teaching, we need to be respectful of people’s boundaries. We need to set up the conditions where our students can say “I need a break!” without fear of judgment or recrimination. Therefore:

  • Always give your students permission to come out of a pose if they need to.
  • Offer options.
  • If you are stuck and can’t think of an option, be honest with them. Be a flawed human and say, “Oh I am stuck too! How about you and I take a moment and breath together” and then wait and see what you can come up with.
  • Let them know they can leave the room at any time and they can come back when they are ready.
  • Model good boundary setting. In your day to day life, practice setting good, healthy boundaries.
  • Find practices that allow you to explore safely and purposefully.
  • Do it for you. Do not pick practices that you think you “should” do, pick the ones that click.
  • Advocate for yourself in your own practice. Tell your teachers what you need.
  • Give yourself permission to leave a class and leave if you need to.
  • We cannot be all things to all people. We cannot always be the hard core or the soft touch. We are what we are. Honoring our boundaries celebrates who we are. Practicing this for ourselves helps us celebrate it in our students.


A Heated Argument

Ah summer... The time of year when we slow waaaaay down and enjoy lazy days. We should just give in and enjoy being slow and sluggish. It’s hot. It’s muggy. Don’t fight it. Just have a drink and relax!

I hate it.

It is not in my nature to not do things. Summer is counterintuitive to me. It saps my energy, frustrates me. I know I should just give in and just go with it, but…  it’s a battle I mostly lose.

For example; this year I gave into my kids’ request to not sign them up for camps. We planned; they would help around the house, they would be responsible for entertaining themselves and they would not rely on TV and video games to fill the time. At the beginning of the summer things were going great. They planned to build a gaga ball pit. They drew up plans for a fort. They weeded the flower beds and helped around the house. I was encouraged. This summer was going to be great!

Then, of course, everything started to unravel. The yard was neglected, projects abandoned, chores forgotten, video games played excessively. I tried to get everyone back on track. It culminated in an angry fight between myself and the tween. It was a classic, heated, mid-summer yelling match. I hit the roof and then blew right through it!

Parenting is like adulting on steroids sometimes. You are basically adulting twice. Not only are you trying to figure out how to get your own house in order, but you are training someone else how to do it too. And, you hope that you have done your job so well that they will be better at adulting than you are. But, most of the time, the pre-adults don’t really want to learn the super important, scintillating lessons you are trying to teach them. For someone like me, who thrives on order and process, the messiness of a child’s learning curve and the obstinance - oh lord the obstinance! - can be truly crazy making.

After the tween and I simmered down, we had a reconciliation conversation. Lots of tears were shed. There were a lot of hurt feelings.

I realized – oh wait, he has no idea that I am trying to prepare him to leave me. He just thinks I am being mean.

I had to back up. I explained that I am trying to help him become independent. I told him that, although I don’t want him to ever leave, I know he needs to. When the time comes I want him to feel confident, comfortable and excited about it.

After that, his whole demeanor changed, softened.

What seems perfectly obvious to me, i.e. I am teaching you how to do for yourself, was not perfectly obvious to him. No matter how organized and structured I think I am, I still missed this critical step: let him in.

A relationship is a two-way street. We are always coming and going. If I don’t let my son know I am making a left-hand turn through his lane, we are going to crash. Letting him in on why I am doing the crazy making things helps him understand me. He may not like it, he may not agree with it, but at least he knows a left-hand turn signal means he needs to slow down and pay attention. Likewise, I have to learn to slow down before I turn. I have to wait and see what oncoming traffic is doing before going into his lane. We both have to actively participate in the flow.

This communication side of adulting is always a work in progress. We say terrible things, assume things when we shouldn’t, we forget.

But the most important thing is to keep trying. Because what we learn, we can teach.

Seems perfectly obvious I know, but sometimes the simplest lessons, like slowing down and enjoying the summer, are the hardest to learn.