Sunday, December 4, 2011
The Value of Vulnerability
I recently learned a wonderful life lesson. I learned this from my students. This happened (in part) when I, recently, attended what is called the Thompson Rivers University, Adventure Guide Program 'Pin Party'. I teach whitewater kayking, swiftwater rescue and rafting at TRU and have done so for about 4 or 5 years. Adventure grads are notorious for not showing up to grad ceremonies because these events are usually when they are already working somewhere on the rivers, oceans or in the mountains. Therefore, the pin party was created. It takes place in November when all adventurous activities become dreadfully wet and cold; and it's generally in between commercial guiding seasons. Instructors, students, grads and former student then gather in the gear bay (a giant room filled with kayaks, rafts, canoes etc) and grads are presented with a TRU Adventure Programs pin. We all cheer, watch slide shows of recent adventures and generally rejoice in the magic of this place. It was at this recent event that I had a conversation with one of my former students, who told me how I had had a tremendous impact on his life. He told me that he had made several lifestyle changes lately such as paying attention to what he eats, making meditation part of his life and writing a mission statement for his life. He told me that all of this began, for him, with a conversation him and I had in the spring. I had talked to him about my personal journey. I talked about cancer, meditation, nutrition and personal growth & development. It was that evening, because of that conversation that I had a realization about this life lesson. But there were other experiences that led me have this epiphany. Over the past few years of teaching kayaking I had the incredible privilege of teaching some very talented boaters. Some of them, had far more natural talent than I, they were younger, more graceful than I. The first time this happened to me, I had second-year student as an assistant on a Kayak 1 course (the beginner level kayak course). At the time I felt threatened by this better kayaker. I felt out of shape and a bit rusty at the time and I struggled to deal with this situation. The following year I had a student in the Kayak 2 course who was clearly a much more talented boater than me. Thankfully it was so obvious, because I now had to adjust my entire approach right from the start rather than struggle with a threatened ego for the whole course. I realized that I wouldn't be able to out perform this student. But what he had in talent, I had in experience. Especially teaching experience. I had spent a lot of time honing my detection and correction skills. Being able to look at a complex movement and determine what could be done to improve it. So I decided to take a coaching approach to my teaching. I did not pretend to be the better boater, instead I said: "Here is what we want to learn, let me provide you with a location and specific challenge to help you master this skill". Then I provided feedback and everynow and then I would challenge myself to give it a go. Sometimes I did well, other times I wasn't as smooth and when that happened I provided my opionion as to why that happened. At the end of the course, this student told me that I had been his favorite instructor and that he had learned so much from me. As it turns out I learned just as much from him. So the life lesson I took away from all of these experiences is this: The value of vulnerability. I can have a much greater impact, when I am vulnerable. When I don't pretent to have it all figured out, know all the answers or possess all the skills, others are able drop those same barriers and allow themselves to step up. Great conversations happen from a place of vulnerability, because we all have our struggles, our doubts, fears and pain. When you allow yourself to be vulnerable you are really open and you allow others to do the same. Then, the magic happens.