Here’s a fun fact: there’s a difference between teaching and performing.
I love doing both. I love helping other people learn stuff that I enjoyed learning. I also love showing off what I’ve taught myself. But sometimes, when I’ve learned something really useful and go to teach someone else, it turns into me showing off and them learning nothing.
Because I’m a performer more than I am a teacher.
When I talk to people, it turns into a speech. When I show someone something, I have to do it perfectly. I always feel like I have to nail the result, even though learning is a constant struggle.
To a point, teachers are performers. They have to know what they’re doing. They have to be able to do everything they’re trying to teach, so that they can lead by example. Along with that, they have to put a skill into understandable words, break it down into achievable steps, and guide others through the same journey they just completed. It’s even more complicated than just performing.
But teachers don’t have to be perfect.
The best way to learn is to teach yourself. A good teacher won’t guide you step-by-step to every conclusion you make— they’ll help you think in a way that allows you to figure out many different things. It doesn’t matter, then, if the teacher knows every answer or not. As long as the teacher can point you in the right direction, you can figure it out yourself.
To a point, performers are teachers. If you watch someone perform successfully time and time again, you can eventually reverse-engineer their method and figure out how to replicate it. It takes a while. It isn’t as easy as letting them teach you. But sometimes, people can’t teach, or just don’t. So you figure it out yourself.
I teach myself a ton of different things. I’m teaching myself how to write songs. Teaching myself to draw. A couple weeks ago, I taught myself how to do a college boy roll over a high bar. This morning, I started teaching myself how to play the drums. Other people teach me just as much. In a week or two, I’ll start all new classes. I’m continually learning about myself and how I act. I read.
And with almost everything, I learn with the goal of performing.
It’s obvious with things like drawing, musical instruments, song writing. With classes, you have a bunch of tests to get through. But I didn’t realize any of this until last night, when I was denied the chance to perform.
For a couple weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to do an obstacle course, which includes the high bar I mentioned. That opportunity was scheduled for tomorrow. The college boy roll is the fastest way to get over the high bar, which is— to me— one of the hardest obstacles in the course. Knowing I had this opportunity coming up, I started training and figuring it out. After lots of work and sweat, I nailed it for the first time. It felt amazing. Now all I had to do was wait for the obstacle course to come around.
Last night, I found out that I wasn’t allowed to do the obstacle course anymore. This goal I had worked toward for weeks was suddenly gone.
I had learned everything. I had taught myself everything. I had worked hard. Now I didn’t get to show off. I was mad.
Not only did I not get to perform, but I didn’t get to teach it to anyone else. Or so I thought.
That’s when I realized. I only liked teaching when I had already performed.
I didn’t like teaching something I hadn’t learned yet. I didn’t like students surpassing me and learning things I didn’t know. I only wanted to teach if I had already come, seen, and conquered.
Which is the exact wrong attitude in a teacher. And in a student, for that matter. I’ve learned a whole lot of things, but there’s so much more to learn and I’m not always going to be able to teach someone else. I’m learning for me, not for anyone else.
And if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s this: nothing I’ve learned has been one-use-only.
Every day, I’m in a new situation where old information pops up and helps me figure things out. When I have to remember famous quotes on command, I fail— but when I’m talking about something, quotes just pop into my head at the perfect time. I can’t remember dates, can’t remember names, but when it actually becomes important in a conversation or in something I’m writing, it comes back. I always say I have a bad memory, but that’s not always true. I remember a lot. I don’t remember everything, but I remember a lot.
Nothing I’ve learned has been one-use-only, like a match or a paper napkin. I’m constantly recalling things that help me every day.
I don’t know where I’ll use the college boy roll, or where I’ll find a high bar I absolutely need to get over. But when that day comes, I’ll be able to get over it. I taught myself that, and the thrill of getting it right— and getting it right a second time, and a third, and a sixteenth— is enough for now. Sometimes I have to learn things without performing them.
And that’s okay. The performance isn’t everything.