A girl is running in front of a fountain.

The Ones Who Help Get You Toward Mastery

What are you really good at?  How did you learn and achieve mastery?  There were probably teachers and coaches who helped you along the way.  

Teaching is more than lecturing.  It is not just showcasing your knowledge or performing. What makes a teacher good? I like Gage’s (1963) definition of teaching– “..a form interpersonal influence aimed at changing the behavior potential of another person.”  People like doing things they’re good at, and for people who have mastered any skills, it is much easier and more enjoyable to “do” than to teach someone else. Maybe it’s why Bernard Shaw’s quote, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” have persisted and so often been taken out of context. A good teacher changes lives by opening doors and opportunities for the student. Teaching well is a supreme art–it takes attention, love, and benevolence.

I love Chopin, Rachmaninoff, and Beethoven and I play the piano. I work up a sweat playing sometimes, and it takes me to a meditative state where nothing but the beautiful notes that I embody remain.  This month, my piano students passed their Associated Board of Royal Schools of Music with distinction—including my daughter–as you rightfully assume, the only reason I teach. Given how much joy creating music gives me, I’d much rather play than teach someone to play the piano, and my love for my daughters inspired me to teach. (I’m humbled by all teachers who give selflessly.  

Until recently, I had let work eat away everything else and hadn’t touched the piano for 20 years.  But when my daughters started taking piano lessons and paying for music lessons felt like money down the drain.  Since they didn’t do the work at home to be able to learn anything new, lessons become the teacher guiding them to practice.  Frustrated and tired of nagging, I decided to get them on the right track by showing them how to practice, make and enjoy music. I played boring scales and exercises and stumbled through sightreading. I wanted them to see that the end results–the satisfaction of beautiful music–aren’t immediate nor effortless for anyone.

Did my actions propel my kids into diligently practicing piano for an hour a day?  Alas, watching someone play the piano well does not make a person a good pianist.  In theory, my daughters’ piano playing should have improved, but every student is different. I tried countless strategies and eventually started teaching them myself.  

Teachers who aim to be accountable for learners’ progress are worth their weight in gold.  It took me a few years to see their bottleneck.  My kids heard people complimenting my piano playing and decided they’ll never be as good as me and continued to flounder until I got a digital piano where they could practice in private until they felt their progress was good enough for my ears. Of course, there were many other strategies, and it helped that I invested the time to guide them through the journey before they got to enough proficiency to fuel intrinsic motivation.

Knowledge is cheap unless you can use it, put it into practice, and benefit from it, and knowing something is different from being able to do it well.  Success or mastery of any kind requires time, sweat, and tears. That process is where most people give up. 

Many young adults are battling a tough job market with the recent nonstop tech layoffs.  To give back, I work with several new graduates from top-notch schools like Carnegie Mellon and Rhode Island School of Designs–especially international students who worked and paid handsomely for higher education in the US. curaJOY’s youth groups even focused on career development in March, where Anthony Pajot, Ph.D., MBA, Daniel Vaughn, and Al J. Marschke generously shared their experiences with students and new grads, including strategic planning exercises taught at IMD. Looking at the young faces in the audience, I saw some slight trepidation, though–the intimidating journey to a flourishing career and the final destination abstract.

For those people who haven’t landed their dream job yet, broaden the search and spend time building your skills with concrete achievements that you can showcase.  Consider internships or even volunteer opportunities in your desired field, but make sure the supervising manager for the role will spend time helping you accumulate credible workplace accomplishments that will become your assets. ] If you fall into the trap of going to the motion (maybe you think you aren’t paid or paid enough), then you will have squandered both your time and opportunity. 

The Pursuit of Happyness (2006) - This Part of My life is Called Internship

Imagine this, if you had a leaky and overflowing toilet in your only bathroom at home, would you hire a licensed plumber who has dealt with leaky toilets thousands of times and can identify and fix the issue in less than an hour, allowing your family to go about business as usual.  Or would you hire a much cheaper (maybe even free?) handyman who has only watched youtube videos on toilet repair and therefore tries a few different fixes over several days while your entire family has no choice but to annoy the neighbor every time someone needs to use the toilet?   I’m sure most people have learned this lesson through painful first-hand experience.

Hopefully, my story makes what I’m about to say more obvious.  Using interns conscientiously–even unpaid–is an expense to employers because the amount of teaching and coacheship required to develop them to where outputs are useable is significant–it is a cost-bearing activity. When I first founded curaJOY, we used student interns and fresh grads heavily.  All my time leaked away in teaching them how to do the job, and everything moved at a snail’s pace. Only after making the pivot to utilize best-in-class technologies and professionals with 15+ years of experience did we catch up to be on the verge of releasing the world’s first multilingual whole-family wellness hub. We now accept interns only when we can afford to do so.

I’m not proposing companies take advantage of already qualified or licensed professionals and profit from free labor. That’s a different beast, and I unequivocally advocate for fair and livable wages, especially in behavioral healthcare and education. 

Will learning will increase your employability and career satisfaction?  If you need to develop further to get into an industry, seek and hold onto anyone willing to teach and guide you to your dreams.  We all need someone skilled and patient enough to coach us through those awkward growth phases.  So when opportunities come calling, give yourself a chance, do your best, and decide how your life will go.  

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