When Do You Know Enough To Teach?

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I’ve had this conversation so many times. Maybe you have too…

To make money, I’ve been told, you must position yourself as the wizard. The all-knowing sage who doth bestow knowledge upon the poor ignorant masses. You must be…the guru. The teacher of teachers. The ONE!

I see this mindset in nonfiction book land in a major way. Publishers want to sign authors who proactively label themselves gods of their domain. Because they think it’ll sell more books. Far more often than not, it doesn’t.

Makes you wonder if that’s the only way.

I’ve always recoiled from that idea of the need to claim some sort of elevated status as a prerequisite to the ability to provide value. It’s never felt like the right approach for me. Because I don’t have any ego need to be “that” person. In fact, quite the opposite. I don’t want to be the wizard, the guru, the blah, blah, blah who floats on air. And I’ve been careful never to position myself as such. Hell, the final chapter in my first book, Career Renegade, was entitled, “Be Your Own Guru.”

Why? Because I don’t want to live my life being held to the impossible standard or expectation of omniscience and perfection that wizard status puts on you. I want to live fully, engage often, ask questions, discover. I want to be a human being just trying to be, well…human. Someone who wants to dig deep into life and share whatever it is I’ve discovered in a way that helps others in their own quests to unfold.

Question is, is that really enough? To just share what you know at any given point in time?

Or do you have to be THE ONE before you can help ANY ONE?

I think not. It’s a shift in mindset. A subtle, yet powerful one. And it’s an onion that gets peeled in a really juicy conversation between NY Times bestselling author and Shambhala Buddhist meditation teacher, Susan Piver, and I in this week’s episode of Good Life Project™.

At one point in the conversation, Susan dropped this thought-provoking idea…

“Don’t teach anyone anything, help them discover something” Click to tweet

I love that frame. Because it’s not about playing God. It’s not about bestowing, it’s about illuminating.

It’s about being of service, helping others find ways to move forward without proclaiming yourself the sage or all-knowing guru. It’s about earning a living by opening your heart and sharing whatever learnings you’ve gleaned from your far-from-complete path with enough humility to inspire others to discover their own truths. It’s about the power of knowing the right questions, the right resources and the right primes, not just dropping the right answers.

So, come join Susan and me as we explore these ideas, dance with the power of mindfulness, and dive into the grace of serendipity and the joy of the unplanned life in this week’s episode of Good Life Project.

And, in the comments below, answer this question…

What can you share that’s of value today?

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48 responses

48 responses to “When Do You Know Enough To Teach?”

  1. That’s a great quote Jonathan and it really differentiates the work of a coach vs. a consultant.

    It can be a tough line to walk sometimes, when do you share information and teach vs. help a person discover their own path.

    I look at the subject matter, all technical knowledge can be taught, but the knowledge of self can’t.

    To walking our own path.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      No doubt, it’s a challenging way to operate. And I’m not saying it’s right for everyone. But for me, at least right now, it’s what feels good. And, yes, that’s always a delicate dance between coach and consultant.

  2. I believe it’s a state of mind, an attitude, that comes across, whether you like it or not. So that you don’t have to ask how you do it: it just is. I’m passionate about getting my message across that change is always possible for everyone. No-one has to live “a life of quiet desperation.” In speaking or in writing, one’s voice will come across as humble or patronising as the case may be (hopefully in my case the former!). Humour is a great way of progressing in the right direction.
    I like Susan’s attitude, as I do yours, Jonathon. Thanks

  3. Amen, Jonathan! And, if I may, a vital P.S. to your words “I don’t want to live my life being held to the impossible standard…I want to be a human being just trying to be, well…human.”

    Yes, yes, thank God! And here’s the lovely icing on that cake: When we live from our unabashed human selves, we are also being the best kind of teacher — by modeling for those around us what it *means* to be human.

    Whether it’s our intention or not, being our rawest, realest self gives those watching us permission to strip down and step up, into the fullness of who they (and not we) are. May more and more of us with much to share dare to dance bare naked again. Thank you for your leadership!

  4. This past year, I have lived in 5 different countries across South America. Some of these countries are labelled as “un developed” countries by most of us from western civilisation. To the point that some of us go to these countries on a mission to “teach” them, or rather “TELL” them how they should or should not being doing things in order to have a better quality of life…

    I am all for helping others, like you said, help them to discover something, but, who are we to tell them or anyone for that matter that our way of doing something is the best way to have a better quality of life.

    I learned that if WE want to help anyone in anyway, WE must first have an understanding of the other person or community. We must take on the approach of discovering them first, learn from them, their experiences, their knowledge, respect where they are at the present moment.

    Only then, can we have an exchange of knowledge, a sharing of each other’s discoveries. Sharing our knowledge and letting the other person use that knowledge to adapt in their own way.

    Both parties will grow from this…I learned that sometimes, WE end up learning a lot more from the other:)

    • Hollie Flynn says:

      I like this very much Antonia! Well said!

    • Franck says:

      Antonia,

      Well said, I agree with you. Unfortunately, the human race has done this and continue to do it to this day. Many think we should all be the same, live the same way, eat the same diet …
      But we forget too often, that our heart , mind, and soul combined make us complex and yet unique.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      That’s always been part of my concern. Too often, I’ve seen people raise themselves up onto a platform that says “I teach, you listen” only to simultaneously end their own journeys as listeners and students.

      The moment you stop being the student, you’ve lost the best part of being a teacher.

  5. Hollie Flynn says:

    Thanks Jonathan! This has helped me reach a greater level of clarity (again!). I have been saying in regards to my work, that my mission is “to inspire and teach” and the “teach” part never felt quite right. Discover! That it is it! I hope to inspire others to discover their own passions, their own way of creating their dream life (not “the” dream life), and discover how to live it fully engaged and full out.

    Thank you for helping me discover a better way to articulate my work and my intention.

    Off to delete “teach” from my pages! 🙂

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Ha, I actually don’t mind the word teach. It’s easier for people to grasp. A lot of people will recoil or not get it if you use words like “illuminator” or “discovery guide” or any of the many other titles I’ve seen.

      I think the bigger idea is in the way you perceive yourself and the role and capabilities you bring to any situation.

      • Agreed. Nothing dirty about being a teacher, says I. We are all “teaching” all the time, with the stuff of our unfolding lives. We might as well own it. Whether those who watch us — or for that matter we ourselves — are learning is, of course, another question entirely!

  6. RCONNORIII says:

    Hello Jonathan,
    I beleive teaching has more to do with your frame of mind, confidence and passion! Everybody has something to teach someone, but do you have the passion or confidence to follow thru. Have a great day on purpose!

  7. jill goldman says:

    yet another fascinating, thought-provoking, and uplifting interview. i have recently been playing with these same ideas of not being a “teacher” but more of sharing my own experiences (in the realm of pain relief as well as other areas)and what i’ve learned from them along the way, in order to help inspire and connect with others who want to take action and get results themselves. hearing this interview today confirms even more to me that i’m on the right path. thank you!

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Sharing experiences is great. Also, one of the most powerful tools you can bring to people is the ability to know the right questions to ask and when

  8. Eva Papp says:

    Trusting my voice and what I have to say always feels less complicated when I first connect to that deeper part of myself. From there I find confidence, and more freedom from ego. In the end it’s not about us anyway; I think the reader knows when we’re strutting our stuff, or helping spread goodness and truth, which originates from no one person.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      I think the reader or “student” often knows when we’re full of it long before we do. lol.

  9. Kimunya Mugo says:

    When you help someone discover something, you remove the “sage” mentality and put on a “servant-leader” heart. This is the attitude I take on when my wife and I have engaged with parents who have shown a willingness to better themselves at parenting their children. Four years and counting, parents have discovered that they have the power to instil firm discipline on their children and still maintain meaningful and loving relationships. Oh what a joy when I see others discover themselves, and the power within them. Not only is the quality of their family life improved, but the children are turning out to be responsible little citizens too 🙂

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Love the idea of the servant heart. Also a big fan of servant leadership ideas.

  10. Susan says:

    Whenever I hear the word “teach” “teacher” I’m reminded of Kahlil Gibran’s remark
    “The teacher who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind.”
    My thought is that anyone who feels called to teach would need to frequently check their motive and ego.

  11. Loved this! Loved the interview, the take away(s) and the ease in which you both shared! It was if you were talking and guiding me on so many levels with perfect timing and messaging for me as always when I open your emails….

    Thank you and tremendous work you are bringing to the world
    In gratitude,
    Carole

  12. Thanks for the reminder we owe it to each other to share our stories, regardless of how many — or how few — advanced degrees we have.

    I’ve been pitching what I think is a brand-new way of eating, only to be told I’m not a licensed nutritionist — so who would take me seriously?

    How about the people who see the happy and more slender new me, who want to know what changed?

    Here are a few of my credentials…

    I used to slit open a bag of Cheetos — and leave it on the counter overnight — so they’d be nice and stale in the morning. Then I’d have them for breakfast, chased with several bowls of Fruity Pebbles.

    Krispy Kremes weren’t decadent enough. I buttered them!

    I gained and lost the same twenty or thirty pounds for about ten years before I got bored with that.

    For the last three years I haven’t had a donut or a cookie or even a dab of butter. I’ve never felt better in my life, and it’s one of the easiest things I’ve ever done.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Often the greatest way to teach is to embody the outcomes we’d love others to experience publicly (and occasionally fiercely, lol), then watch people ask how.

  13. I was at a conference last weekend where I heard (for the first time) the phrase “to a third grader, a fourth grader is genius.” I took that to mean that everyone who is going through something has nuggets of wisdom to share.

  14. shannon says:

    Although I am paid as a professor, I truly feel more like a facilitator. The quote about teaching that ends with…involve them, and they understand…is how I know I learn.

    To involve them in my process, I must go from my experience. From what I truly do know, and I only really know what I have felt by trial and error.

    I tell the students that they are benefiting from a million mistakes I have made, but I have grown because not one of those made me stop learning.

    Thank you for modelling this thought. That old nasty “not good enough” voice is so loud for so many.

    Namaste~

  15. Cathy Hasty says:

    I agreed with you, Jonathan. The people who want a guru are seeking salvation in all the wrong places. Years ago I loved the book, IF you meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill him and the Wisdom of Insecurity. They both develop the countercultural wisdom you are referencing.
    For the most part, if folks don’t know how much I care, they don’t care how much I know. My role is to get out of the way, listen carefully and reflect back to them the throw away phrases that have ties to the deep unconscious. When I can meet someone right where they are and celebrate the good stuff, they thrive on the applause. My clapping hands get sore from celebrating the successes of others.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      “my role is to get out of the way.” Increasingly I feel the same way. Creating and holding space is becoming a role I’m beginning to enjoy more and more. I don’t need credit, I just want to be around when the lightbulbs go on.

  16. A wonderful interview that reminded me again that being fully present, without agenda, or a preconceived idea of what your response should be helps create space for a true response to someone’s question. It helped me remember that the response may not come from me and isn’t dependent on my experience. Creating/holding the space where someone can ask the question from their heart (and hear themselves ask) is often the beginning of finding an answer. Thank you!

  17. Evan says:

    Stay open, stay with it – it works. (You will find that most of the time you can have an elated calmness with all the ups and downs)

  18. Hi J and the team:)

    I taught english as a foreign language for many years and learnt you can’t teach anyone anything! All you can do is show them ways to get started, to keep practising and make sure it’s fun. Otherwise they won’t learn as fast and might give up altogether.

    I feel the same way you do about not wanting to be a guru. It reminds me of Seth Godin’s book Linchpin. I love all his books and ideas but that one made me uneasy because I don’t want anyone to rely on me. I want to help them learn to do things so they can be independent and get on with it by themselves.

    That would be liberating for all of us:)

  19. Be a lamp unto yourselves…. your dharma roots are showing, Jonathan : )

    As a big fan of both you and Susan, I love this post and it nails what I admire about both of you. That kind of unpretentious yet confident presence that you both carry is what helps others to find that source of wisdom and knowledge inside themselves.

    This past summer, I ran my first e-course ever. I called it “Fall in Love with Your Work,” and the only expertise I claimed was my own life experience of constantly exploring the question, “what is right livelihood for me?” All my life I have been on a quest to create work that I love, to varying degrees of success.

    I have no training or credentials as a career coach or anything like that, so I felt like I was going on a bit of a limb by offering this course. But I felt a burning desire to share what I’ve learned with others who also struggle with that, and — most importantly — to create an environment where we can all learn and share and teach each other.

    The course turned out to be one of the most gratifying experiences of my life. It was an honor to watch the breakthroughs that folks in the course made. And it was all because I was able to drop my own ideas about being an ‘expert’ or ‘guru,’ and just be human in the learning process with them.

  20. This should be required viewing in all teacher training colleges,although we all have to have the occassional Miss Jean Brodie “Do as I say not as I do” moments!

  21. Gayle says:

    I love that last comment: “when my inner life and my outer circumstance become congruent–that’s My Good Life.” My new mantra. Thank you, Jonathan–I needed this video today.

  22. Joanna says:

    Love this post. So happy to see this concept hitting wider circles. 🙂 I think the antiquated guru misconception is the very reason that keeps some from not doing what they want to do.

  23. Mark Corpuz says:

    I do believe that it doesn’t take much to be able to teach and share your insight and knowledge to another person. But I also understand that in the cluttered world of business and information overload on the web, being a guru does extend your reach.

    But we can frame the concept not necessarily as an omnipotent all knowing genius guru, but rather a person who has cultivate enough credibility thru their status and experience can definitely have a wider reach.

    However we all have our circles. And I do believe that within our own circles we have have more impact on a personal level towards the people who follow us because of the interaction and communication. So yes, a little bit of credibility gained thru experience among your circle is enough to teach them well.

  24. […] there is to know. So when do you know “enough” to be an authority? Jonathan Fields put it this way: “Or do you have to be THE ONE before you can help ANY […]

  25. THANK YOU for sharing this with us. In this day, it seems like the norm is to bill yourself as an expert, when really, we’re all just trying to find our way. One day at a time, one experience at a time.

    Just because the person to the left of me says the sky is one color, doesn’t mean that I can’t have my own interpretation. I’ve always been a believer that we are here to teach others, and uplift others. Bring out the best in their abilities and inherently, you are being the best you can be.

    Great, great wisdom here. Thank you.