You know when you love something so much you just can’t shut up about it? Yep, you’ve got passions. They truly make life worth living, right? You might be worried friends and family are going to block your number if you keep talking about your passion, but don’t worry about that. I want you to keep talking about them. I want you to teach your passion. Trust me, you’ll be grateful you did.
The quest to become an expert at my passion.
In summer 2015, I (randomly) set myself the goal of completing Skillshare’s Teach Challenge – to create and publish a Skillshare class in one month.
This is a task that I went into with glasses colored… something other than clear (read: rose).
I thought it would be an easy, fun goal for the month that I could also, maybe, add to my resume. It seemed perfect since I didn’t really have anything else going at the end of May, and I wanted to try my hand at a new challenge.
Well, it was certainly a challenge.
I was teaching something I knew and loved. But I found something interesting in the process: teaching something made me better at it.
01. You don’t know what you know until you see it objectively
If you’ve loved something, done something, or practiced something for a long time, you know a lot about it. It’s impossible to work with something for any length of time without learning something, even if you aren’t really trying. (I’m sorry for fucking around, 9th-grade guitar teacher. I still know 3 chords, though, and that’s enough to play a Nickleback song, if I was that desperate.)
But I’ll tell you a little secret: The longer you study something, the less you know about knowing it.
Convoluted? Probably—that’s my M.O.
Let’s break it down:
When you’re new to something, you start off floundering. You don’t know shit and you know it.
What are those metal bar thingies for on a guitar? Why do you use picks when you already have fingers? How can you tell if it’s in tune?
Then you do it for awhile and things start coming more naturally. The metal bar thingies are frets and you don’t fret so much about which ones make which chords anymore, but maybe you do still fret about getting your fingers stretched in the right way.
After a while, you’re a pro and you don’t even think twice about tuning your guitar. You just know when it needs to be done and when it doesn’t.
But the problem there is that you don’t remember everything that you didn’t know when you first started. You might remember that beginners need to know how to tune a guitar, but you don’t remember that beginners wouldn’t automatically know when the guitar is in tune. You might remember that beginners don’t know chords, but you might not remember that they probably also don’t know music theory.
Teaching can change that. When you do it right, you’re forced to examine the process from the mindset of the beginner again. How do you do it right?
- Start from the very beginning (or the beginning relative to where your students are starting)
- Break down the process into themed or linear segments (create an outline)
- Work backward to force yourself to think about the skill or knowledge as a whole
- Have a non-expert friend read over your outline and tell you where they get lost
I wouldn’t have signed up to teach a course on developing a signature style (which to me was just another way of saying “minimalist wardrobe to make life and elegance easier”) if I didn’t think I knew the topic well enough.
But there is something to teaching that teaches you something:
Creating a lesson plan is difficult. It makes you think about a topic in an unnatural way. Instead of intuitively doing your passion as you normally do, you have to think about the knowledge itself. For me, I intuitively know how to put an outfit together, but it took some trial and error to get that knowledge out in a way that made sense. Early feedback on the project told me I’d left out key elements to the lesson – things I took for granted because I’d been doing it so long.
Creating a lesson plan is difficult. It makes you think about a topic in an unnatural way. Instead of intuitively doing your passion as you normally do, you have to think about the knowledge itself. For me, I intuitively know how to put an outfit together, but it took some trial and error to get that knowledge out in a way that made sense. Early feedback on the project told me I’d left out key elements to the lesson – things I took for granted and, therefore, forgot to add to the syllabus. And that doesn’t include all of the “oh yeah, can’t forget that” moments I had when I was writing it down the first time. So it’s definitely a process, and that’s okay.
When you have to write out a lesson plan, you think about topics more fully than you do when you only have to know them or do them. Teaching something forces you to understand it.
02. It turns out you probably don’t know everything you thought you knew
That feeling you get when you’re starting to teach something you love and you remember all the little things you’d forgotten you had to learn: magical. You feel like a goddess.
Then you come to the jarring and unsettling realization that you don’t know anything.
Our guitar player can tune a guitar by ear because she has perfect pitch, but she has no freaking idea how to explain how to tune a guitar. She doesn’t know what tools are available (if any) to help people without perfect pitch. She doesn’t know any tips and tricks for beginners who may not have perfect pitch. But she’s got to teach all these baby guitar players how to tune their guitars, so what does she do?
Research. She goes out and learns, from the beginning, how to tune a guitar. It was a skill she skipped over in her own journey because of her perfect pitch.
The same thing happens with other minutiae that you took for granted, often subconsciously when you were just starting out. You learned it passively, and now you have to actively teach it.
This is how you become a stronger teacher, a better expert, at your craft. This is how Masters become Masters.
And teach it. I re-learned so much about how to style—versus just ‘being stylish’—when I was prepping my class.
It gets even better. By teaching something, you often have to learn other skills, too. With my Skillshare class, I went from “never opened it” to “tolerably versed in it” with both iMovie and Adobe Premiere. And there are dozens of other uses for those apps that I can apply this forced learning to.
Like creating a new course. Hint: I’ve got a super cool one coming soon! Want to be first to know? Subscribe below.
I went into that Skillshare challenge thinking it was going to be no thang. Turns out writing scripts, filming yourself, and editing the videos is real tough. I have a whole new respect for full-time vloggers.
— Holly O. 🎃 (@GirlAlchemy) October 29, 2016
03. Deadlines are fierce motivators
There was a prize for completing the Teach Challenge on time: one year free of Skillshare premium membership. That was a huge draw for me. I love extracurricular academics and Skillshare has a lot of excellent classes on there. I wanted that prize.
So I got that prize.
It came down to the eleventh hour, and it required a lot of late nights, early mornings, and gnashing of teeth, but it got done because it had to get done.
This method works for most people and most challenges, including teaching. It is not the most stress-free method, but it has its merits.
When you’re learning something new, or trying to teach something you already know, set yourself a deadline. Not just a circled date on your planner, but a ‘shit will go down if I don’t make this deadline’ deadline.
Most people will never finish their Magnum Opus.
Make sure you aren’t one of those people.
Set a deadline.
04. You’re probably deluding yourself about your skill level
Been playing guitar for ten years and you can do anything Eric Clapton can do? Perhaps you’ve got some blind faith in yourself?
Nah, don’t be embarrassed. It’s natural. I’ve been writing for a hell of a long time, and I have to step back and give myself a stern side-eye every now and then when I start thinking I know everything and then realize that I’ve written 1000 words of comma splices.
Writing is one of the things that I am not an expert on, despite years of good practice and getting great reviews from people who read my stuff. I can do it intuitively, but I have no idea how I’m doing it. I am no grammar expert anymore. I can’t even remember what that verb thing is called for situations like ‘have to’.
But teaching something changes all that. If I were going to teach writing (Cthulu help us), I’d have to learn all this stuff that I don’t exactly understand. I know when a sentence is correct, but only by ear. Not by rules. To teach writing, I’d need to be able to teach the rules, too.
You can’t teach ‘by ear’. Students simply wouldn’t understand it.
05. But you’re probably also deluding yourself the other way
I wish it was more uncommon, but it’s not: Self doubt.
It’s an epidemic in some of the blogging communities I take part in, and it’s unnecessary. You know your craft. If you don’t know it 100%, so what? You love it enough to get there. Everyone starts at the beginning, even guitar players with perfect pitch. Stop doubting yourself and just do it.
I want y’all to stop this right now—this thinking that just because you aren’t as skilled as someone else, you aren’t skilled enough. Yes, you can learn more. Yes, you can practice more. You can always learn and practice more. That’s life. Things change, we grow.
Do you love something?
Then I’ll bet you know something about it. Enough to teach someone else about it.
Don’t doubt yourself. Doubt only does three things:
- It slows your momentum
- It devalues your work
- It lessens the goodness of your output
Self-doubt may also contribute to one other debilitating habit: constantly seeking validation.
Feedback from others is a great thing. Positive feedback can be extremely motivating, and I encourage both the giving and receiving of it. But if you find yourself talking negatively about your work, skill level, talents, or knowledge too much because having others tell you you’re doing great keeps you motivated, then there’s a problem.
Your motivation should come from within. If it doesn’t, then your best work won’t come at all.
Do your best work, and yes, get feedback as necessary, but don’t rely on it. Teach your students, and let their learning be your validation. Let their feedback fuel your creation.
Go forth and teach what you love.
Don’t give me any of that ‘but I’m not good at anything crap’. You are. You know you are. What do you love? Share it with us in comments and then go out and teach it.
You’ll make you a better person and the world a more vibrant place.
What are you going to teach?