Knowing yourself is The result of persistent Not knowing yourself

Are You a Good Student?

Being an effective student is one of the more important attributes you can have, because it’s upstream of your ability to gain the knowledge, skill, and awareness you need for any challenge whatsoever. When you stop learning, you start dying.

There was a single event in my childhood that changed my life as a student forever. I spent summers at a local pool that was a lot like most people’s camp. There was a “swim test” you had to pass to go in deeper water without supervision and it was a big deal.

You swim 25 yards prone, half a length on your back, then turn over and swim the other half length prone again. Finally, you tread water for a minute. It was a rite of passage: you got to write your name in a book!

I dreaded the test. I was probably around 8 years old and my friends began passing it. I’d tried once and failed. My mother encouraged me to try again, but I refused. I was humiliated failing in front of everyone watching. I pretended to be fine as the biggest kid in the shallow end but inside I was insecure and ashamed. I didn’t know it, but adults who cared conspired to help.

Like most kids there, I took group swimming lessons. I mostly didn’t like them because it didn’t come easily, and I was and still am a cold water wimp. They were always in the morning. In one lesson, our teacher led us through a series of drills. It was harder than usual and I was surprised at the end of the first length that we didn’t get a break.

“C’mon, Josef, on your back now, keep going!” the teacher shouted. I remember being exhausted and annoyed at him. It wasn’t until he told us to tread water that I realized he’d given us the swim test without saying so. He must have seen the realization on my face because he smiled at me knowingly in that moment. I still remember the look in his eye, “I knew you could do it,” he said without words. My exhaustion turned into exhilaration.

He was counting down from ten. I was about the pass! I was as confused as I was excited. “But I thought I couldn’t pass the test!” Somehow this other person knew I could do it. But how? He tricked me into doing something I was sure I couldn’t do.

That was a formative event. Follow the instructions and you’ll do things you didn’t think you could. Someone else can know you better than you do. 

If you want to be a student of anything, these are the basic principles with which to begin. What most people do is pick and choose which instructions to follow and how to follow them, and they assume they know themselves better than anyone else can.

If you want to be great at anything, you have to get these two basics:

  1. Follow instructions
  2. Assume your teacher sees things in you that you don’t

Of course, this is simple, but that doesn’t mean easy. What’s in the way is usually authority projections that cause us to unduly mistrust. Our childhood conditioning complicates relationships with teachers we hire to help us. I’ve had many teachers and at one point or another, I’ve hated them all.

Can you relate? That’s what authority projections do. The teacher tries to help us, to do the thing we pay them for. When they push us, hold us accountable, tell us things we don’t want to hear, we hate them for it, right?

It’s understandable, even inevitable, but not mature.

A good student works through the projections and stays the course. A bad student plays victim and either continues as a poor student or quits. I’ve surely done both, but over the years I’ve learned how to be a good student and it’s one of the most important skills there is. Everything you are is downstream of this.

I tell my clients they have two options while working with me:

  1. Do the work I give you
  2. Explore with me why you’re not doing it

If you cannot embody the basics of being a student, you’ll forever stay in your comfort zone: the distorted picture of what you’re capable of. If you’ve never had a teacher push you in a way that made you hate them, you have no idea what you’re capable of. It’s really that simple.

As I’ve been teaching since I was fifteen years old (first as a swim instructor), I’ve been hated thousands of times. It hurts, but it’s part of the job. Besides, one look in my clients’ eyes when they experience what they thought was impossible makes it all worth it. So you can hate me all you want, just know it’s because I know something about you that you don’t, and part of you is afraid to admit it. And sure, I’ve developed the skills to see, but just by virtue of being not-you, most people know something about you that you don’t.

The sooner you accept this, the sooner you can truly receive help from others. It’s not just help, it’s also love. You have to be able to doubt what you think you know. It’s hard, but you’re worth it.

What do you want to learn? Whatever it is, I guarantee you your unconscious resistance to help is in the way.

How important would it be for you to find out what exactly that is?