If you ever wonder what you’ve got to offer anyone else, it’s this:
Whatever you have learned, you can teach.
That makes sense, right? You become a natural teacher of the things that you have learned, yourself.
You can offer what you’ve learned to someone else who may be in a similar situation as you once were.
For example, if you’ve dealt with depression (as I have), you’ve probably learned enough to encourage others who may be struggling to reach out to friends and family and professionals for help. If you’ve gone through a divorce (I haven’t), you have plenty more to offer than I do to someone who is experiencing a similar situation.
Teach what you know.
This is the root of leading by example.
Simply by having “been there, done that,” you have something that is worth giving to others.
Think about a situation when you felt completely alone in your struggle. Imagine that you came across someone who told you, “Oh, I totally understand what you’re going through! I was in a similar place. Here’s what I did that helped me…”
Your problem might not be magically solved, but feeling less alone (and getting some hopefully good advice), goes a long way.
“Teaching what you know” is one of my go-to mantras. As a writer, author and teacher of yoga and self-expression, the philosophy that I share revolves around helping people who want to help people. Being a teacher of what you know is a mentality that encourages you to realize that you’ve already experienced more than others have, so you have plenty to offer.
Whether I’m working with writers, creatives, yoga students or full-time professionals, the advice is the same:
You possess plenty — more than enough — knowledge and experience to make a genuine offering of help to someone who may be in a similar place as you.
But in a world where we’re able to talk to one another, give advice, and share stories with a few button clicks, it’s important that we responsibly govern the advice we’re giving. We owe it to the people whom we want to help to try to help them with good conscience, and not because we think we “know better.”
In other words, there are some qualifiers to wrap around this “teach what you know” mentality.
Because there’s a big difference between teaching what you’re still in the process of learning (i.e. what you want to know), and teaching what you’ve already come to know for yourself.
Me? I tried to teach what I was still trying to learn… for years.
After I quit my job, I began my blog and started writing self-help-y essays with a big dream to become a best-selling author someday. I had left my career politics because I wanted to do what I could to lead by example and share a message around what leading “without followers” meant to me, since the world of conventional leadership appeared (still appears) to be so broken.
But all I could really teach at the time — being in my early 20s, and comprehensively inexperienced in life and in work — was from a place of what I wanted to learn.
I taught from aspiration.
I mentally understood the right ideas to share.
I could find good enough words to speak the ideas.
But I wasn’t fully there yet in my own experience.
I didn’t know them.
What I have to look back on these years later is a smattering of old blog posts that are relatively hollow, though well-meaning, and seriously lacking in the advice I was hoping to deliver.
Really, how could I have offered anything else?
I can see now in these posts that I was really speaking out loud to myself, hoping to teach me what I said I was trying to teach others.
Beyond blog posts, this “teach what I wanted to know” mentality pushed me to set overly ambitious, completely unrealistic goals that I had no chance of achieving. I mean, I thought I could write a best-selling book — on my first attempt — on a huge topic like leadership — when I was 25.
(Example A, ladies and gentlemen, of “Teaching what I wanted to know.”)
But I learned from that over-stepping, and with each disappointing result, was forced to change tactics.
So I self-published 4 more books since that first one, each time tweaking my writing approach and publishing strategy to which editors and designers and helpers I brought on board. Every book was slightly different. Iterated, one from the next. Every time, I taught myself something new about how I might go about it the next time. Now I can teach that, since I learned it firsthand.
Even before my first book-writing experiences, I thought I could whip up and sell some quick and easy “guidebook” products like other bloggers did to both make some money while claiming a stake as a voice on the topics that I liked to write about.
Only that the e-guides never happened.
Because I really didn’t have much to teach people.
I hadn’t “been” much of anywhere, or “learned” enough firsthand to offer it. It became abundantly clear that I hadn’t every time I tried to write a “How-To Guide.” (The “How-To” piece is really crucial, it turns out, in a how-to guide!)
Only now, over 7 years later, am I finalizing my first e-course, Unavoidable Writing, which has been years in the making and beta tested with real customers and edited and re-worked with a number of helpers.
I plan to debut that in autumn 2017.
Then, there was the personal side of being a teacher. I wanted to teach the “whole world” something those years ago by speaking to truths of our human existence. But based on what, exactly, could I teach, save from my own limited perspective? I had barely met or seen or touched any of the world that I wanted to help.
So I traveled to 22 countries in the last 4 years, mostly on my own, usually unable to speak the language, and each time discovering a new facet of myself, of why people are awesome, and what it really means to be human.
(And still learning. Never not-learning.)
Teach What You Know (Not What You Want to Know)
Teaching from what we want to learn is where we all start in life. We grow up trying to piece an understanding of ourselves, and the world, and what matters, together. And like a mad genius attempting to connect vast and complex equations across an enormous chalkboard, we start to piece together how all of the things we’re learning connect, contrast, and play with one another.
Before long, you’re learning. Before long, you have something worth teaching.
The first few years of my journey as a writer and teacher were full of rebirth, renewal, and seeking — I’m proud of how far I’ve come since. But those years were marred by inconsistent offerings, incomplete dedication, and ambling efforts.
Because I was reaching a little too far, too soon. I was trying to teach from what I wanted to know of the world, and of myself.
It took me a long, long time to finally “get” that I needed to go deeper and deeper, far beyond my realm of comfort, to actually practice what I wanted to preach.
A true offering to others — a real teaching — could only follow the first-hand experience.
Every time we start a new venture, journey, or exploration, we become beginners again. Which means that, distinguishing what we’re now only just learning from what we have learned happens anew with each new venture, effort or journey. So if you’re getting back into writing for the first time in years, or setting off on a whole new path like yoga teacher training, be prepared:
It may take far more time than you realize before you feel ready to teach from what you know, not what you’re still in the process of knowing more fully.
(For example, I’ve been teaching yoga consistently for over 3 years. Although I feel like I can give some good advice to teachers who are just starting out, I feel like I have a long way to go before I can actually help train new yoga teachers to be the best yoga teachers they can be across their whole teaching careers. Still learning.)
Whatever you’re in the midst of learning, give yourself time to learn it.
And honor the process! Try to enjoy the journey of the unfolding. Be patient. The journey is, after all, the reward. And all along the way, do what you can to help others. Do what feels like it’s enough, but don’t feel pressured to share what you’re still learning right at this instant.
Try to distinguish what you’re learning firsthand from what you’ve already learned, and can probably speak more thoroughly about.
Sure, if you’ve dealt with depression, that doesn’t make you a doctor or a therapist (nor should you act as if). And yet, you can speak to the feeling of enduring depression. You can say, “I can only speak to my own experience, but what helped me was…”.
Just as well, getting through a divorce doesn’t make you a lawyer or even an expert on all divorces. But you can share was like for you. What worked for you, and what didn’t. What you would do again, and what you wouldn’t. What you did to cope. How you rose above.
Sure, you’re not the world’s #1 authority. You don’t have every answer. And you’re not claiming to. Teaching what you know means you’ve tried it on, firsthand. You’ve been there. You’ve done it.
Not just getting the idea of it.
But in tried-and-true embodiment.
If you’ve experienced it yourself, you do know enough to have something to offer to others.
You teach what you know because it’s felt in your bones; because you’ve tread the path and there are others who haven’t yet; because you carry all you’ve ever learned right along with you still.
Teach from that place.
You already have plenty to offer. So give it.