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Can Becoming a Teacher Help You Heal from Great Adversity?

How do you make sense of the most challenging or adverse experiences in your life? You teach about them.

Remember the days when most of your learning came from a teacher or textbook, intermixed with interactions on the playground? As we grew into adults, our experiences seemed to almost suddenly became more complex and multi-faceted…sometimes striking from seemingly out of nowhere with the swift kick of adversity.

Seated in those circumstances, it can be exponentially difficult to make sense out of what has happened or is happening. Such a scenario is sadly too commonplace in our world where we have to process such incomprehensible acts as terrorism, sudden loss of a loved one, inexplicable illness and global political upheaval.

Albert Einstein said in relation to Galileo’s Science, “Pure logical thinking cannot yield us any knowledge of the empirical world; all knowledge of reality starts from experience and ends in it. Propositions arrived at by purely logical means are completely empty as regards reality.”

While it is human to struggle with being able to mentally process unfathomable circumstances or great personal challenge, it is also true that our greatest knowledge stems from experience, and in particular, these most trying experiences of our lives. This is why we must endeavor to extract the valuable, teachable lessons that lie within our experiences.

If every single day, in every moment, regardless of its high or low,
we have at our hands a source of knowledge. Embrace your experiences.

Life will always involve peaks and valleys from the incredibly adventurous to the truly adverse. Within this journey, we all have a unique composite of experience that only we can speak to. If every single day, in every moment we experience, regardless of its high or low, we have at our hands a source of knowledge, why is it that we are not more fully embracing the opportunity to learn and to teach?

While we may quickly jump to share insight gained from a book, course or classroom, how often do we think about teaching what we’ve learned through the course of our own life?

In the most basic form, life is a classroom. Through the power of choice, our lives become a self-directed study…and even if we are not always consciously choosing the lessons life is attempting to teach us, we always get to choose what we extract and learn. It is each of us who ultimately decides the depth and scope of our studies. It is we who determine the meaning in our lives.

Not every experience is going to make sense; not all lessons are going to be easily extractable. Our minds and hearts may never be able to process how a terrorist can kill innocent people, or illness can take the life of someone who did only good for the world. When we’ve given ourselves time to feel and heal, what we can do is create meaning, by choosing to transform our experiences into something of value for others. We can teach what we’ve learned.

Looking back at the most adverse or adventurous experiences of your life, ask yourself:

  • How was I different after the experience? What growth occurred from what I endured and pursued?
  • If I look through the pain or suffering, what potential or strength becomes visible?
  • What part of my learning could be easily adapted by others and help them grow, heal or ease their pain?

Through books, speeches and conversations, those who have chosen to embrace and learn from their experiences are contributing their experiential knowledge to ease the way for others. However, you don’t have to be a professor, author or speaker to share the valuable knowledge and insight you are intended to share with others. You need only make 3 key choices….

3 Choices to Maximize Your Innate Teaching and Mentoring Ability

  1. Be a Student, Always – Before we can be teachers, we
    must be students. The student in all of us is like the child in all of
    us – the endlessly curious part that ceaselessly asks questions. Stay
    humble, knowing we will never know it all, and always have so much to
    learn. Embrace the opportunities for learning and growth that are always
    within your grasp. Allow something greater than your mind to guide you
    to answers that you didn’t even realize you were seeking. Our unfolding
    journey of realizing and transcending human potential is one of
    ever-evolving growth. The more we learn, the more we have to teach…and
    the more we teach, the more we learn.Roman philosopher Seneca said,
    “While we teach, we learn.” 19th century French moralist and
    essayist Joseph Joubert said, “To teach is to learn twice.” This isn’t a
    radical theory, but rather a time-tested principle; and bringing our
    awareness to our innate capacity to be teachers and grow through
    teaching is invaluable. In the Time Magazine article,
    “The Protégé Effect,” author Annie Murphy Paul explain how scientists
    are documenting and modernizing the ancient theory that we learn while
    we teach. In relation to recent studies she states, “Students enlisted
    to tutor others, these researchers have found, work harder to understand
    the material, recall it more accurately and apply it more effectively.
    In what scientists have dubbed ‘the protégé effect,’ student teachers
    score higher on tests than pupils who are learning only for their own
    sake.” At the University of Pennsylvania, a “cascading mentoring program”
    encourages college undergraduates to teach computer science to high
    school students, who in turn teach the knowledge to middle school
    students. The same format of program has been used for medical students
    at Altitude, a healthcare mentoring program in Toronto.
    There, mentees are required to give back as mentors, sharing their
    knowledge and experience with new participants, who then pass the
    knowledge on to the youth in their community. One of the greatest
    benefits of the Altitude program was determined to be community
    connections.What is the root of the word communication? It is the Latin
    word communis, meaning “common.” To teach what we learn, is to make common, relatable, understandable – to give it meaning for both parties.
  1. Lead by Loving Your Experiences – Natural leaders trust
    their intuition, drawing on knowledge and insight gained from past
    experiences to guide them. They embrace experiences as teachers, knowing
    there is always something to be learned…and they extend that learning
    forward to ease the way for others. Their efficacy stems from the
    awareness of their experience and empathy in relation to the struggles
    of others. They want to be a guide who eases the way. In her article
    “10 Impressive Characteristics Great Leaders Have,” author Tegan Jones
    shares how to stay positive, maintain confidence, have humor, embrace
    failures, listen, inspire, take responsibility, make decisions based on
    lessons learned in the past and lead by example – the characteristics of
    great leaders…and easily-applicable choices in our everyday lives.We
    all have the capacity to be teachers and leaders, whether our platform
    is our family, company, community or humanity. Someone is always
    watching and wanting to learn from us…and their wanting to learn gives
    us the opportunity to grow. When we share our experiential knowledge and
    insight, we also allow ourselves to embrace our triumphs and feats,
    rather than brushing them off as simply “doing what we had to do.” We
    use them for good – for the betterment of others.
  1. Create Meaning in Your Life – It is us who create the
    meaning of life. Psychologist and holocaust survivor Victor Frankl
    founded logotherapy based on the belief a lack of meaning causes mental
    health issues. His work lives on, in attempts to help others find
    meaning and solve their problems by redirecting “unhealthy attention”
    away from the problems we are trying to solve. This theory holds true
    when we teach what we’ve learned (or are learning) in order to heal and
    create meaning from our experiences.Meaning is the definition we give to
    our lives – what we decide we will stand for. Creating meaning from our
    experiences gives depth to our lives, it expands our “story” to move
    far beyond the sometimes crippling nature of experiences that happened
    “to us,” lending to a sense of empowerment in how we are shaping our
    lives. Transforming our life’s experiences into valuable knowledge and
    insight for others is one of the most powerful choices for creating
    meaning. It allows us to simultaneous be both a student and a teacher –
    as we embrace the lessons life has gifted us and use them as a
    foundation to ease the way for others.It is we who create the meaning in
    our lives through the value we offer. We gift that value through the
    extraction of lessons, transformation of problems into powerful
    practices, building of experiential knowledge and shared insight from
    the experiences in our lives. It begins by being an observer, of
    ourselves and of others. Sometimes it requires a bird’s eye perspective
    to see your experiences through a broader lens. Witness, question,
    observe and heal. Has the experience built enthusiasm or has it provoked
    empathy? Share your evolution of learning and growth with others…they
    may very well be on a similar journey. As leadership teacher Simon Sinek
    says, “Helping people solve the problem you are struggling with
    actually helps you solve your problem.” This is the multi-faceted
    benefit of sharing what we have learned or are learning from our
    experiences. We create a partnership with our audience, where we develop
    compassion, rapport and deeper understanding with each other. After
    all, we are all living this same life through our own unique lenses.

If you lead with what you’ve personally learned, others will be drawn to learn from you.

We all need to share our value – the gifts, perspective, and knowledge that stem from our unique composite of experiences. Each one of us is intended to help others with a specific challenge or question – to offer a hand and walk them through the rocky unknown with a greater sense of ease and confidence. Choosing to learn from our own experiences and from others’ experiences means that we are honoring and maximizing what we create of this opportunity called life.

If what you have learned through your experiences means something to you, share it. Speak about the value and meaning that you have discovered and that others have provided for you. Use this in a way that inspires and empowers others to discover their value – the teachable, sharable lessons – within their experiences. As Einstein stated, our experiences are our greatest teachers – the source of knowledge. Be a student and be a teacher – you have the capacity and opportunity to do both.

How do you make sense of the most challenging or adverse experiences in your life? You do so through the creation of meaning, by teaching what you’ve learned.

Originally published at joscelynduffy.com


— Published on April 1, 2018

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