The more I reflect on my learning process and study my students’ and their learning processes, the one common thing I come across is that we are so comfortably, comfortable in being uncomfortable with ourselves.

Growing up I didn’t like school.  I always felt that I was being told how much I didn’t know and how much I had to listen to my teachers.  I felt uncomfortable questioning anything because most of my teachers made me feel stupid for having done so.  I felt as though I didn’t really understand much, because most of my teachers made me feel that asking them questions made me look stupid.  Then there are the classmates of our varying ages who seemed to be just as damaged by our learning process, where they would enjoy laughing at what you didn’t know, even though they probably didn’t even know what they were laughing about.  School felt like I was being bullied everyday, but not by kids, by this system that felt like they were telling me what I had to listen to, because I didn’t know anything about what I was, or who I was.  I think this is also why I gravitated towards sports so much.

Learning sports would become my own way of learning how to learn.  Mom always made sure that I had training and coaches whenever I seemed to gravitate towards different interests, but I realized that what I enjoyed most about being physical is that I could always figure out what I was doing by watching, practicing and trying on my own.  This was something the NYC school system rarely every made me feel capable of.

I had one school teacher and I have two life teachers that would help me learn that I could learn anything I wanted, because they would teach me how to think on my own and that it was ok to question what I didn’t understand.  There’s something especially fearless about knowing you can think for yourself and that you should think for yourself.  My greatest teachers are not just Mom and Dad, there was my 5th grade teacher, Mr. Willens of P.S.41, in NYC’s Greenwich Village.  He was this crazy mix of mom and dad all wrapped up in this incredibly sweet very Masculine, Maternal Gay Guy.

I grew up figure skating, so I was always aware of the fact that there were men and women who were same sex oriented and it wasn’t a big deal at all.  Mom and Dad never even told me there was a difference, just that some people didn’t get married the same way they did.  That’s all, we are all the same because we are human and our personal choices are nobody’s business but our own.

Mr. Willens was the first time I was able to meet someone outside of figure skating who was comfortable enough in his own skin that I just knew that he was like most of my guys friends at the skating rink, but I didn’t have to worry about him borrowing one of my skating outfits without returning them.  He would become my most loved and favorite teacher to this day.  He reinforced how I was raised, by encouraging his students to speak, think and question for themselves and he also had that fiery touch that Momma Chen has a ton of, where he put you in your place when you didn’t listen respectfully.  He was always respectful and his way of teaching always put you in your place when you weren’t respectful in return.

Respect, is such an important ingredient in all of life’s experiences and matters.  It is the truest measure of the actual value of your life.  It can only be earned from the most honest and humble of hearts.  It’s value is immeasurable.  The silly man often confuses Respect with Attention and Arrogance.  Respect is the truest measure of maturity and intelligence.

Respect begins with how we see ourselves.  It has nothing to do with knowing more or less.  It has nothing to do with money.  It has nothing to do with degrees.  It has nothing to with wealth.  It has nothing to do with poverty.  It’s not about being better.  It’s not about being worse.  It’s about being honest.  It’s about being humble.

Why do so many of us feel such comfort in being uncomfortable with ourselves?

I’ve experienced this when I was in school, but lost discomfort with myself the minute I became more saturated at the school, learning from my father.

During my years of formal schooling I remember thinking that dad sometimes sounded crazy to me when he would tell me that I could figure things out without needing to be told how to figure them out.  The more dad would encourage me to use my own mind, the more I actually would try to think, I liked how this felt.  I would watch him reading and tinkering around with ideas for teaching and it fascinated me.  I always felt like I was watching this incredible inventor and I enjoyed seeing how much my dad enjoyed learning from himself and his ideas.  He always smiled when he made mistakes, because he always said that now he could figure out how to do it right, from having done it wrong.  His way of thinking would cure me from the insecurities of formal schooling and it wouldn’t take too long before I literally didn’t care about how crazy I would seem to anyone else for just figuring things out on my own.

When I work with students I am always eager to let students know how much they actually do know and that we will be learning together.  I never enjoy teaching when I can feel a student doesn’t feel confident about themselves or the learning process which requires a trust and understanding between teacher and student.  Trust can only be born through mutual Respect.

So why are we so comfortable being uncomfortable with who we are?  It makes absolutely no sense.  None of us are the same and everyone has a unique quality and the ability to develop skills.  Everyone is a genius at something and that is what is so magnificently intriguing to me whenever I meet new people.  I am always intoxicated by what I am eager to learn from everyone.

I love people who joyously share their joy of mistakes, because it is the process of wanting to learn and how to get things “right”.  The process never stops with just getting things right either, there’s always the journey of making things more right as we go along and learn from our other magnificent mistakes too.

My experience has also taught me that the best of teachers and the most intriguing of educators just don’t care what anyone else thinks.  True fearlessness is birthed from within, not caring what other people think, not caring what other people want.  It’s just about you, being you, discovering you and creating your right way of living.


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