Doing something new is hard. Doing it in front of 23 college freshman is terrifying.
A couple weeks ago I taught my first college class. Even though I have five years teaching experience, I still find new material and new settings difficult--it is essentially an experiment that what I bring to the table will have value for those I am working with, and as these people have usually made a fair commitment of time/money to be there I usually feel a lot of pressure.
This was something entirely different. Being in a college classroom at the apex of a five year plan that had somehow actually come through I had a tremendous amount of impostor syndrome. I found my whole body tightening up, my words flowing poorly, and my breath not connecting in my usual way. I don't think I did a bad job through the first week, but things didn't feel quite right.
The second week, I had a two hour class alone with the students without my co teacher. As I stepped of the red line and turned towards the staircase, I stepped on an invisible puddle that had condensed from a pipe above the platform. It was a completely friction-less surface. My foot immediately went out from underneath me and only my other foot shooting out into a quick, stage-combat influenced lunge saved me from some pretty bad bruises.
This experience had a strange effect--rather than unnerving me, it shook me out of a state I hadn't realized I was in--all of a sudden, it seemed strange to want to keep any sort of dignity after publicly taking a pratt fall.
I had an epiphany--the reason why I felt I was struggling in class was because I wasn't allowing myself to be vulnerable.
One off my default habits when I am in a new situation is to try and present a very put together, authoritative front. During my training as a teacher, my trainer noticed this habit again and again and instilled in me that not only does this sometimes block me from making my full humanity available to my peers, but it had a disentigrative effect on my Use--the level of ease with which I employ my body. It is actually the fear of being vulnerable that causes me to tense up to try and present an impression of competence--this actually blocks me from being as competent as I can be. My fear of being exposed becomes a self fulfilling prophesy. This tension also keeps those around me from being comfortable with their own vulnerability--I am essentially demonstrating that they themselves shouldn't feel free to open up.
My fall helped my mask to slip, and I realized that I didn't need it anymore. I decided to try a different tactic--rather than trying to teach well, I asked myself if I could teach vulnerably. The effect was transformative--immediately I had a completely different presence in class, and I could see the students immediately respond. Its not something I can do all the time--especially at the beginning of classes, I still feel that push in myself to present a front. But if I take some time and try to soften up, I find I can navigate my way to the gift more often than not.
The amount of energy we use to resist being vulnerable is enormous. The magic is that if we allow ourselves to open up, the need for that protection often evaporates. This is something I will always work on.
If you want to explore your own ability to be vulnerable and present, consider joining us for 'Exploring Presence and Vulnerability with the Alexander Technique' March 15th at Green Shirt Studio. You can also build your stamina at performing in front of others at our Group Performance Coaching Saturday February 29th at Pendulum space.
Thoughts on what is going on in the work and the world right now. Many posts to come.