Jay Shirley

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The Daily Practice

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Teaching Beginners

Published: 11 Jul 2012

Yesterday I had a great yoga session. The teacher leads the class in a way that is very compatible for me. I really enjoy my time and leave the class feeling fantastic.

I leave feeling mentally alert, physically tired but amazingly energetic. It’s a really great experience and the feeling lasts the better part of the day. I know that my experience is very different than other people’s experiences there.

Today I noticed a woman in the class struggling right from the start. I watched her demeanor change for the worse. She started with eagerness but then the willingness to push herself faded away. She was not tenacious. I was very curious to see how my favorite yoga teacher would react.

She didn’t. She moved on.

Interact with those putting in effort

The struggling woman quickly showed that she wasn’t going to push herself. She stayed well within her comfort zone and didn’t try to keep up or stretch herself.

She fell further and further behind, and at no point was she given any special instruction. I don’t think it would have done much. Mentally, she was already giving all she was willing to give. That much was apparent by her body language.

It wasn’t that she was out of shape, either. She was of average build and looked like she at least knew her way around the gym.

She was a beginner and would stay that way.

Perpetual beginners aren’t rewarding to teach

My wife said it best when I was talking about this with her.

If she went to a beginner class, she would be happy but she would never stop being a beginner.

It’s true. There are a lot of people like that. I see this a lot with software development, but I’m sure it’s in any field.

There are people who put in only the level of energy they’re comfortable with. They stay beginners forever. That’s no fun.

Choose the people with passion

There are billions of people in this world and so many are eager to make a difference. The passion to push themselves harder and further than others is a common thread.

Several years ago I was interviewing for a fairly high level position (though in a relatively small company). As part of the reference checking, my outlook on leadership was discussed.

The CTO of the company laughingly relayed the punchline to me. “You don’t suffer fools gladly!” I heartily agreed. I don’t.

Why suffer fools when you can live in the company of greatness?

The passion for change creates greatness

Every day I try to do better. The mantra I’ve lived with for my whole adult life is that I can do more in 5 minutes tomorrow than I could today.

I push myself out of what is comfortable to improve myself. It’s not unreasonable to want to surround myself with others of similar mindsets.

The yoga class today showed me it was ok. You let the people who want to be beginners stay beginners. Maybe some day they’ll wake up and want more.

Maybe I could help them. Maybe I can show them how to want more. I don’t think so, though. I’d rather save my energy working with and living with the best people I can find. Quality over quantity.

It’s hard to tell when someone is perpetually a beginner or simply out of their depth. Sometimes they simply need a little encouragement. I should work on being able to tell the difference.

When they’re ready, I’m ready. People need to find their passion on their own and it’s not my job to guide them there. When they find their passion, I should do everything I can to help them. Countless people have helped me hone my skill and have worked with me. I think, and hope, it is because they’ve seen my passion, too.