The title of this post can be attributed to the author of my favorite book, Richard Bach. In Illusions – The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah, Richard writes about himself, learning the most important lessons of life. At one point, he’s called upon to teach before fully understanding the idea. When he consults his messiah’s handbook, he sees those words:
You teach best what you most need to learn.
A girl, her dog, and a life-defining moment
When I was a little girl, I had a collie mix named Wilbur. He was smart, but unruly. My mother decided he needed obedience classes, and since I was his primary person, it was up to me and my 10-year-old self to go through this training process.
The class was fun, and we learned the sit-and-stay basics. But I knew there was so much more to learn about dog training! And so I did what any other industrious 10-year-old girl would do: I checked out a library book and opened a business.
Before I had even attempted to master advanced commands, I had a yard full of neighborhood kids and their dogs. For half an hour, two nights per week, I led them through the sit-and-stay process, and then branched out to other commands that my dog could hardly demonstrate. But through this process of teaching what I needed to learn, both my dog and I advanced quickly. Before long, I was teaching my dog and others how to run agility through obstacles that I built in my back yard. We were exploring off-leash and silent commands. We had a neighborhood full of well-behaved pups and happy dog owners.
When I started my dog training business, I knew I’d have to learn fast in order to stay a step ahead of my customers… and so I did. When I read Illusions for the first time later that year, I saw that phrase about teaching what you most need to learn, and it was an “ah-ha” moment. The light bulb went on, and I knew… if I needed to learn something, the best way to go about it was to apply the concept liberally with people who depended on me knowing what I was talking about.
And so I taught flute lessons to kids a year behind me in band all through high school.
And I helped kids who were struggling in the classes I was presently taking in high school.
And I became a computer science tutor after my intro to programming class in college.
And I became an editor of my college literary magazine so I could learn more about publishing.
And I am forever a beta reader for creative writers, all while continually honing my ability to craft a story.
Fast forward to today…
When it comes to writing for a living, I don’t think there’s any more appropriate phrase or ideal than “teaching what I need to learn.” A lot of times, clients will ask, “Do you have experience in my industry.” Sometimes, the answer is simply no, I do not.
Which I follow with, but you do, and I have access to the resources I need through both you and through my own research.
What I have experience in is researching and writing. The very act of writing is much like teaching. I write to convey a point or idea to the reader in such a way that it grabs their attention, holds them fast, and leaves them with a bit of knowledge they didn’t have previously.
In order to accomplish this task, I, too must learn. And so I do – quickly.
Learning-to-teach is, by far, my favorite part of my writer’s life. Every single day, I sit down to work, and I find out something new. I learn interesting facts and I pluck the usefulness out of them. I discover new words and worlds. I uncover not just the ideas themselves, but how best to convey those ideas so that the reader gains value from the words that I write.
For my entire life, I’ve been a teacher at heart. Whether through front-yard dog-training lessons, hours in a computer lab, stories swapped over coffee, or deep research into brand new topics, I know that when I am given the task to teach a subject, that’s when my brain comes alive, my soul lights on fire, and I learn with reckless abandon.
Because, after all, what is life for if not to learn.