Beginner and Master

The July Project: Day 22

Tomorrow morning I’m teaching a workshop to about a dozen participants. The topic is using new online resources to grow an audience and communicate effectively with it. I know the subject matter reasonably well, and I’m confident that my expertise is at least a little greater than that of my students, so they’ll learn something of value. Even though a lot of the specific details are tools and techniques I’ve only learned recently myself, I know that I can teach with authority because of years of experience with design, communications, marketing, personal computers, and so on.


Contrast that self-confident attitude to how I spent my evening: the second Learn to Row class at the Greater Houston Rowing Club. Tonight I climbed on an Ergo rowing machine and worked on stroke technique until my arms were ready to fall off, and then we started playing around with actual boats. We stepped through picking up the “shells” and carrying them from the boathouse to the dock, swinging them down from shoulders to waist to water, and placing the oars in the oarlocks. Then we practiced getting ourselves from the dock into the boat—the most astonishingly awkward and difficult maneuver of the evening—until the time came to get back out.

I felt overwhelmed by the combination of new vocabulary, unfamiliar equipment, and alien movements. The only part of the experience that kept me calm, able to focus my attention, and open to the learning was the instructors.

Our teachers were veteran rowers. One has been rowing for six years, another 11, a third, 25 years. Their mastery of the subject matter was impressive. Even more striking was their patience and compassion. They put us through our exercises offering constant encouragement and gentle repetition, with never an unkind word for our clumsiness and discomfort—nor for the prodigies in the group who were eager to show off the hour and a half worth of skills they’d picked up.

I hope that I can teach tomorrow with as much grace and kindness as our instructors showed us tonight on Oyster Creek. We have all been beginners. If we’re willing to work hard, we can all be masters. It’s a good experience to go back to being a beginner once in a while.

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