My barre class instructor, Lauren, has all the attributes that would have made her one of my favorite teachers in elementary school. We would have said she was “nice, strict, and fair”. I realized this as she asked us to do difficult things in class. When you go to Lauren’s class, you know you’ll have 55 minutes of challenge, with occasional praise and correction.
Almost everyone looks back at their favorite teachers as the ones who asked the most of us. The same is often true with coaches or managers or even friends. These people set the tone by asking us to do the right things in the right way.
I frequently think of the quote from Marcus Aurelius: “Our actions may be impeded, but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” Simply put, the obstacle is the way.
When we voluntarily submit to coaching and instruction from others, we are letting them place obstacles in our path. By overcoming those obstacles, we become better. Rainer Maria Rilke said, “The purpose of life is to be defeated by greater and greater things.” I started taking piano in the past year. My beginning tasks were to learn the note names, how time signature works, dynamics, and so one. When I first played a simple Mozart piece, I was thrilled. As time goes on, I look forward to being challenged by more and more difficult pieces. It is the job of my piano teacher to put more difficult pieces in front of me, teach me how to approach them, and let me know when I’m ready for the next one.
Recently, I heard a conversation between a friend and her son about the phrase, “No pain, no gain.” She explained that there is a type of pain which is a warning to do something differently. There is another type of pain which is more of a discomfort we need to go through. I know enough about her son to know that he will understand this difference and will continue to challenge himself to meet high standards.
And this is the distinguishing characteristic of mature, healthy adults: we seek out challenges. For you, maybe that’s writing a long-delayed note to a relative, or committing to an exercise class. Maybe it’s reading a complex article or taking a math class at a community college. Maybe it’s visiting a neighbor to introduce yourself. If you aren’t sure what you need to do, just think of what you like doing least.
Or ask your favorite teacher!