When I said I wanted to get a push bike and go on ‘coffee rides’ (my term) with my husband, he was quietly excited. Off we went. Him, the expert on bikes and my contribution was to choose the colour – rich red of course. I can’t say I contributed by feeling comfortable on it because I didn’t. Bikes have changed from my youth.
My husband reminded me that I have ridden bikes with gears. That was 18 years ago on a wide bike path and I stayed in the gear it was set in.
My husband expected me to find it easy. From years of being married to me, he believes in my ability to master a new skill quickly and confidently. Normally I’d feel the same way. This time it was different. Bike riding mastery has not come easily to me. I’ve had four falls, two serious.
Sometimes we take to new skills like a duck to water. Other times, like my bike riding, from the beginning we wobble and fall and maybe hurt our body or our pride or both. Our confidence in our ability to continue on this path wavers. It becomes a challenge every step of the way.
We don’t all grasp things instantly. I am reminded of the way our two sons learnt to walk. Our first born never crawled. He stood up, walked and ran a week later. Our second born crawled backwards for a long time. Then he stood up, wobbled and wobbled and finally mastered the skill of walking. There is no right or wrong way of learning a skill. And in most circumstances there is no time limit on learning the skill.
We all have our preferred way of learning whether fast, slow or somewhere in-between. It can be pleasantly surprising to a slower learner when they pick up something quickly. And it can be confronting for a fast learner when it takes them a long time to feel on top of the skill.
A few short instructions on gear changes, a few afternoons riding up and down a short, wide path and my husband thought I was competent. Suddenly it was an 8 km ride – front gears, back gears, along narrow footpaths, through sharp turns, along the side of the road, up gutters and watch for traffic while riding across intersections. I had barely mastered the first skills and all these new situations were thrown at me. I fell badly. When I got back on the bike again months later, it was a 12 km ride with a fall on grass. Recently a 32 km ride with a bad fall. Each time I fell I learnt a new rule, too late to be helpful. It’s not a criticism of my husband. It is simply that he does not understand where I am coming from and why I am having difficulty.
When we bought my bike, there was a quiet feeling in my gut telling me that this was not going to be easy for me. Instead of listening to it and insisting that I learn this skill slowly, I ignored it. I am wiser now.
I saw this in my past career when I was a high school teacher. There were the teachers who only wanted to teach the fast learners, the ones who took to their subjects like ducks to water; the ones who got high exit scores and were offered places in respected courses at universities. In short, the prestigious ones who made teaching easy and their teachers and the school look good. The ones who found it challenging were often ignored or passed on to teachers like me who would nurture them. The gentle art of encouraging someone to slowly master a skill was considered a lesser talent.
But, you say, business is not like that. Yes it is. I see the ads for courses, workshops and seminars and the 30 second talks at networking that are unconsciously meant to appeal to the fast learners – ‘X did this course and earned $50 000 in a week’; ‘Y applied one module and went from struggling to attracting more high paying clients than ever before’ or ‘Z came to one session and her fear disappeared overnight.’ We want to boast of our successes so that we are seen as worthy members of society. I’ve been there too.
That is ok. But where are the testimonials for those who naturally take more time to learn or those fast learners who feel a sense of shame that they stumbled when learning a certain skill? Where are the testimonials – ‘I found this hard. With (your name) gentle encouragement and belief in me, I persevered slowly and surely. I would have given it up or not even started without (your name) being there.’
There is an Elegant Art to Teaching Beginners
Many people think that anyone can teach. They see it almost as a weeding-out process to find those who will taste success quickly and go on to participate in their more expensive programs. They are looking for the fast learners; the ones who take to it like ducks to water. If you are struggling, then it is assumed that you either have an emotional block or you aren’t ready. You are not their ideal client.
Only a wise and humble person can put their mind and memory in the shoes of a raw beginner. It takes a special person to recognise that some may find the beginner learning slightly or extremely challenging. It also takes an awareness to avoid pre-judging who will run and who will crawl through the learning. And it takes conscious respect to gently encourage all beginners without expectation, judgment or condescension. There is an art to making beginners feel safe while they are learning. Not every teacher has it.
The wise and kind beginner teacher is a Master Teacher. He or she is a valuable contributor to business and society. The monetary reward for teaching hesitant and stumbling beginners may not be as high or as instantaneous as teaching those who take to it like a duck to water.
Yet I think there is a hidden and silent market out there of people who want to learn something but are waiting for a kind and patient teacher to come along. Who knows what they will pay. For the Master Beginner Teacher in every field there is a quiet and soul-smiling satisfaction in watching people blossom into slow and steady success.
What of My Bike Riding
We leave for Canberra to visit friends soon. Some of the time there will be spent bike riding. I will not join my friends and my husband. Their skill, competence, stamina and experience are all far beyond me at this time. I need to learn this skill slowly and I will not jeopardise my future health. I will happily drive to their riding destination, drink coffee, read a book or explore on foot.
My husband will have to wait longer before I join him on bike rides here in Brisbane. I want to join him riding with complete happiness rather than a little happiness and a lot of fear.