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I’m taking a really great course now called Teach Now which I highly recommend for anyone who is interested in teaching. Registration is currently closed but it’s worth getting onto the mailing list to learn about it next time.
The course is for current teachers and aspiring teachers. It deals with the nuts and bolts of teaching, but also the psychology behind teaching.
One of the first lessons has been about getting comfortable with ‘the gap’ of teaching. The idea is that there is a gap between where you are as a teacher and where you think you should be as a teacher. It has been revelatory to discover that just about every teacher experiences this gap where they think that they should know more about the subject, or be better able to deal with the audio-visual tools, or be cooler, or have a better mailing list, or never lose their temper, or have an endless supply of patience.
No matter what we have to offer as teachers, it’s never where we think we should be.
And that gap, the difference between where we are and where we think we should be, is a source of anguish for most teachers.
I bet every single one of you reading the description above of ‘the gap’ was able to relate that to some area of their life, their art, their creative practice or even their fledgling attempts to sell their work or get paid to do their creative thing.
We all feel like this.
We create this myth that other people ‘have their shit together’ and we don’t. If only I could be like that person. If only I had their knowledge or abilities, I would be able to succeed so much better at what I’m doing.
It isn’t true.
They are busy looking at you and wishing they had something you’ve got.
Don’t let THE GAP stop you from taking action
Here’s the real problem. So often we don’t take the steps we need to take because we allow ‘the gap’ to stop us in our tracks.
We think we need to take another course [Dear Reader, the irony is not lost on me that this revelation came about through taking a course…]. Or read another book. Or do another degree. Or hire the right person to help us. Or lose 10 pounds. Or save £1000. There is always some gap between us and the action we need to take/most want to take.
And most people freeze in their tracks and just gape into the void and list all the reasons why they aren’t already on the other side.
The only solution to the gap is scary as hell.
That’s to jump.
Even if you read that book. Or take that course. Or consult with that person. Sooner or later you’re going to have to jump if you want to reach the other side.
Why not sooner rather than later?
When I was a fledgling young actor I was at a crossroads. I had completed a two year diploma in Theatre Arts. I got a great job right out of college doing The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas at Stage West Calgary. I was a tap dancing cowboy in dinner theatre and I was happy as a pig in you know what.
I was sleeping on my brother’s couch for free and earning $300/week and I thought I was rich!
At the end of the contract I headed home unsure of what was next. It wasn’t long before the phone rang and they were restaging this production in Edmonton, where I lived, and did I want to be part of it? This time around I could also get my Equity card, which was worth its weight in gold. Not only would I get my card but I would now earn $525/week. I was living at home and I don’t think I was paying any rent (what were my parents thinking?) and once again I thought I was rich. I saved tonnes of money.
While doing this second contract I began to realise that this job wasn’t going to last forever and that I hadn’t really enjoyed that gap between jobs. I found the period of time between the first job ending and lining up the next job to be really unsettling. The gap was difficult. I was uncomfortable with the gap between where I was – an unemployed actor – and where I thought I should be – with my name in lights on a big theatre.
In my 20 year old logic I thought that if only I had more training, more education, I would be even more employable and so I wouldn’t have to face that gap. I would be ‘better trained’ and as a result I wouldn’t have to face the unknown of that gap.
So I decided that I would go to University.
Despite having done 2 years at college, I would get NO transfer credit and so I was faced with another 4 years to do a BFA – but that was 4 years of knowing what I was doing which seemed less fearful than 4 years of staring into the gap.
I talked this over with one of the older, more experienced actors in the company who had taken me under his wing.
“I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing,” I said. “I think I need more training.”
This actor, from Toronto, who had been on Broadway, done loads of TV – had a career I would have died for – said to me: “none of us know what we’re doing. We’re all afraid we’ll get ‘found out.’ Move to New York instead. Go audition, go dance on Broadway.”
There I was. Faced with two sides of the gap.
I could either make peace with the gap and do it anyway, move to a big city, audition, confront the insecurities, bluff my way through feeling like I didn’t know what I was doing –
– I could go back to university where I would ‘train’ for four years, become a better actor and thus come out the other end, four years later feeling confident that I knew what I was doing.
Road Not Taken
I chose the University path.
I mostly enjoyed my first year, because I was taking lots of interesting courses, but after that most of it was torture. I even dropped out in my third year. Then moved to another city, to a different university and did two more years to finish my degree.
Did I feel smarter? Better prepared? More able to face the gap? Like I knew what I was doing?
If anything I probably felt MORE fearful of the gap because now I felt like even more of a fraud – I had all this training so why didn’t I know what I was doing?
I did a bunch of auditions and didn’t get hired for any acting work so my first job after university (where I graduated as Valedictorian of my class) was working in a textile factory cutting pieces of fancy braiding to staple to sample cards. For minimum wage. Punching in and out with a time card.
I was once again faced with the gap between where I was and where I thought I should be.
Guess what the answer was?
I started a Master’s Degree – which I eventually dropped out of.
My rock bottom was working for two years in a Forestry and Agriculture Library.
I don’t think I have ever been as depressed or had such low self esteem as those two years trying to pretend that I was interested in tree dendrology.
The turning point
Moving to London was the turning point. Getting an agent. Going on auditions. Getting a few jobs and losing out on most of the others. Learning to write. Getting published. Getting rejected. Starting to teach. Failing a lot of the time. Succeeding some of the time.
The turning point was when I started DOING instead of learning, or studying or trying to equip myself to deal with the void.
When I started just jumping – whether I knew I would make it to the other side or not – is when things started to turn around.
Every advance I have made in my creative career has been because I took a deep breath and jumped.
I wrote an email and pushed send.
I took a deep breath and made a phone call.
I wrote something and sent it to an editor.
I went to one more audition even though the last 20 had resulted in nothing.
I showed up even if I didn’t know what the hell I was doing.
I faced the gap. I looked into the void. And I jumped.
It didn’t always work out – but you know what? When I fell, it didn’t hurt nearly as bad as I thought it would.
In fact, every time I had jumped, even if it didn’t quite have the desired result, I got closer to where I wanted to be.
Start jumping. Stop worrying that you are coming from a place of ‘not enough.’ Jump. Jump again. Then jump some more.
See where it takes you.
The one thing for certain is you won’t stay where you are….Take a deep breath and…..