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The lesson I learned

Many years ago, I learned a valuable lesson.

I enrolled for a programme of workshops in the US. It required a significant investment upfront. I signed up because I was at a turning point in my life and was exploring a new world and curious to know what options were available to me.

My initial intrigue and interest in the programme turned to disillusionment at the style of teaching. I found several other people in the group who held a similar attitude. Our mutual dissatisfaction brought us together into a little huddle of grumblers. We bonded through criticism of the workshop leader. For a time, it was fun.

What changed?

But then one of the doubters became a ‘believer’. I was shocked. He had ‘betrayed’ us and ‘gone over to the other side’. A chasm had opened up and our disparaging remarks were no longer received with complicit understanding.

I felt acutely uncomfortable.

But it was a wake-up call. If he could benefit from the programme, what was I missing?

My strategy backfired

I explained to the programme leader what would help me learn more effectively and made two requests of her. Her reply was: ‘There’s only one way to teach this material, and that’s the way I’m teaching it’. I didn’t return for the final part of the programme.

Whilst I can be content with myself for acting to take care of myself, I also see in that action a hint of ‘if you’re not prepared to play my game, I’m not going to play yours’.

I saw the ‘convert’ taking a different tack. He applied himself to the material and worked out how to use it to his advantage.

Instead of demanding that the world changed to accommodate him, he made the changes in  himself. By changing his attitude, he changed the outcome. And the teaching style remained the same!

What I learned

Now, I’m not advocating that we just work the system for our own benefit, and never try to shape it into something that addresses things that are important to people.  Instead, I want to be aware of how stuck I can get when I stay with the expectation that other people should change to accommodate me. By asking myself what I can do even if other people don’t change, I keep myself open to learning.