In my 28 years, I have never made a B. I have never failed a test. In many ways, the experience of failure is uncharted territory for me. And yet, for that very reason, many other frontiers remain uncharted territory for me as well. Because I have never felt myself to be strong or athletic, I have always avoided sports and competitive physical activities. The answer? Don’t play. Opt out. My desire to be good, to be perfect, to meet the expectations of others reflects an underlying fear of failure. A fear which evidences itself when I refuse tasks that I don’t feel confident I can excel at. When I struggle to find the fun in an experience I cannot dominate.
The bad news is that I can’t avoid everything in life that I’m not good at. (Did I say good at? Who am I kidding? I mean BEST at.) And that even if I succeed in avoiding these insufferable failures, I am cheating myself of beautiful opportunities for growth. Rather than continuing to flex the muscle that is already strong, when will I begin to tone those muscles which have atrophied from disuse?
In his book, Mastery, George Leonard says that life “makes beginners of us” over and over. How perceptive! As we travel along our life’s journey, new adventures appear at every turn. These adventures challenge us, stretch our capabilities, and encourage us to grow. Much to my annoyance, they also require us to take the role of “beginner” over and over again. Leonard says, “In the master’s secret mirror, even at the moment of highest renown and accomplishment, there is an image of the newest student in class, eager for knowledge, willing to play the fool.” Aha! So not only must we be the beginner, it is our willingness to do so that forms us into the master at all.
My commitment to teacher training has been a deliberate act of putting on the white belt – the belt of the beginner – and being “willing to play the fool.” I did not enroll in teacher training because I knew I could be good at it, much less the best. I signed up because I wanted to build a new muscle and perhaps find a part of myself that I don’t already know is within me. To say the least, the experience has been challenging, uncomfortable, and sometimes terrifying. But along with the struggle of the beginner comes the thrill of those first inklings of a growing competency… those that say, “Though I thought I could never do this, perhaps I can after all! What else can I do that I didn’t know? Where is my next adventure?”