What makes me a teacher?
I'm not a teacher because I know more than other people.
I'm not a teacher because I am superior.
And I'm definitely not a teacher because I get things right all the time.
In fact, I'm a teacher exactly because I mess things up, because I believe myself to be your equal and because I feel that I need to learn more.
And I'm a good teacher because I embrace vulnerability enough to be honest about my experiences.
Here is the story of how I started consciously stepping into vulnerability.
I was first introduced to the concept of vulnerability as a strength by my friend Anna, who was attending a class I was running at the gym. This particular day had been hard, and to be honest I wasn't quite sure how I was going to manage teaching a group of people who were expecting me to deliver the strong yet calming yoga-type experience they were used to. I had recently separated from my partner of two years, but hadn't yet moved out, and on the way to the gym some members of my partner's family arrived, including a young nephew, only a toddler. After some emotionally-strained pleasantries I excused myself, only to be farewelled by the toddler waving and saying "bye Mary!". Ordinarily this would have been occasion to laugh and for someone to say "that's Bek, silly, not Mary!". Except that this out-of-the-mouth-of-babes incident brought on a silent and collective gasp - Mary was the name of my partner's new girlfriend, and for the toddler to confuse us meant that she must have been in the picture for longer than I realised. And it hit me like a tonne of bricks that everyone knew except me.
Imagine banshee-meets-howling-dingo and you might have an idea of the sound of my crying in the car on the way to the gym. I was crushed. Heartbroken not only at the loss of my relationship and the realisation I'd be taken for a fool, but that an entire family I had loved and felt a part of had kept this secret from me. How on earth was I going to pull myself together enough to teach a class in 10 minutes time? The honest answer - I wasn't. But my level of commitment being high, I wasn't going to abandon my thirty or so participants either. So I did the best thing I knew how - I accepted that my eyes would be red and my face splotchy. I accepted that at any point over the next hour I might burst into tears again. I accepted that I was definitely not going to be at my best that day. And I got on with it.
On entering the room several people met me with the usual "how are you?" to which I responded "actually, terrible - this has been a very difficult morning so far". I then laid down my yoga mat and fitted my microphone to my head, and turned to face my group. Then I spoke the words that would later inspire Anna to connect with me. "I just need to warn you that I've had an awful morning, and I'm really not sure how I'm going to go today. It is highly likely that I could burst into tears, so if that does happen, don't worry, just continue with the exercise and I'll carry on when I'm able to. Is that ok?" To which everyone nodded a warm yes, we started the music, and I taught my class with probably the most raw and exposed feeling I had ever had.
The following week, Anna arrived at class with a book in her grasp, which she handed to me. "This is for you. I was so touched by how brave and vulnerable you were last week, and I'd like for you to read this if you're interested. I'm running a book group with some friends of mine to discuss it soon and I think it would be wonderful if you could join us." The book was "Daring Greatly", and there began my long-distance love affair with the author Brene Brown, whose research I now base a great deal of my life and work around. (And Anna and I are still friends to this day!)
While I think I have tended to move towards vulnerability and authenticity in my adult life, this was the first time I was made aware of it being valuable, and a character strength. Many people since have tried telling me the opposite - that I need to put on a brave face, keep my chin up, maintain the bravado that everyone apparently wants to see... "people feel uncomfortable when others get upset", "you have to maintain the face of professionalism", and my favourite "you can't teach people about well-being if you're looking like a basket case". Well, I did and continue to disagree - the world doesn't need yet another person putting on a false mask. The world needs people to step up and say "yes, maybe I appear to be a basket case today, but here I am!" And do you know why? Because we all have days where we feel like a basket case. Every single one of us experiences pain, upset, loss, despair, and all of us at some stage have cried and felt raw, exposed, vulnerable. The weakest among us will continue to hide it and pretend it doesn't happen. The strongest amongst us will accept it, embrace it, show it, admit to it, and move on despite - and sometimes because of - it.
Here's to teaching humanity that we can have permission to embrace the full spectrum of human experience.
This post was originally published on the Live It Up Events blog - visit the website to learn more about well-being for individuals, parents and businesses.