The Best Teacher


A writer friend contacted me recently and asked if I’d be willing to sit down with a young man who had just moved to Seattle and give him some advice about starting a writing career. Because giving advice about starting and sustaining a writing career is practically all I do, I said, “Sure!” We met at Starbucks and I liked him right away. He was very polite and curious and brought a notebook to write down all the useful things I had to tell him.

It was also odd because he was exactly thirty years younger than I, and I kept imagining what I might have done at that age with all the advice I was doling out. I knew the answer, quite quickly: I wouldn’t have gone looking for it because I hated advice. If anyone tried to give me some I’d retreat into the chamber of my mind where people’s voices became muted and distant. Once their lips stopped moving, I’d leave the chamber and say, “Okay, thanks. I’ll remember that.”

I know it was rude, but I was allergic to doing what other people thought I should do. I possibly still am. But I had to admire this young man and his notebook and humility and eagerness to learn. I wondered if things would have gone differently for me if I had not been so stubborn about advice. I decided to tell him the things I wished I’d been willing to hear when I was his age, the things it took me twenty years of trying and failing to finally accept. He seemed happy to hear it, and wrote it all down.

When we were done, we shook hands and I wished him luck and told him to stay in touch. I don’t know if what I said will be useful to him, but I have no doubt he’s going to do fine; anyone that hungry to learn has his mind in the right place. Maybe that’s why things worked out for me as well. I was determined to let experience be my only teacher. Fortunately, experience never stops teaching, whether I feel hungry or full. It keeps guiding me back and back and back to life’s only answer, back to where every story begins and ends, where everyone has what it takes to do whatever they want.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual coaching and group workshops.