The Toughest Teachers are the Best Teachers

My mother was a clean freak. 

There is a story my father tells of when he and my mom were first dating and they decided to bake cookies together. Things were going smoothly when some sugar got spilled on the counter. My mother grabbed a sponge and immediately wiped it up. A couple moments later, some flour ended up on the counter. Again, within a nanosecond, it was cleaned up. My father, amused at the lightening speed with which this kept happening, began covertly dropping bits of flour on the counter. Spilled. Cleaned. Spilled. Cleaned. 

Within a couple minutes, my mother realized she was being toyed with and they both had a laugh. 

It’s good to laugh at our own foibles. 

But truth be told, her neat freak ways were not my favorite growing up. There was plenty of eye-rolling and protestation. 

You shift into a place of power and responsibility when you move from “Why is this happening TO ME?” to “How is this happening FOR ME?”

As an adult, however, each night as I leave no dish behind in the sink and wipe down the kitchen counters, I am grateful and connected to the habits that were drilled into me. I will never achieve her master level of organization, but the lessons I learned are still with me and I’m glad. 

Sometimes at the conclusion of a meditation, I will prompt students to thank their teachers. For most of us, we will bring to mind parents and maybe some other actual teachers that we’ve had. 

But teachers are everywhere and in the realm of personal development and shifting into a place of responsibility in our lives, it’s essential to start recognizing and appreciating the more nuanced teachers, the difficult ones, the hidden ones who expose our still tender spots and areas for growth. 

Every person and situation becomes a chance to learn more about who we are, and where we can grow.

You shift into a place of power and responsibility when you move from “Why is this happening TO ME?” to “How is this happening FOR ME?”

So where ARE all these hidden teachers? 

Answer: Everywhere. Literally. 

So here are some of the more challenging ones to consider. 

Your “Difficult” Friend: Hey, you chose the people in your life! So what irritates you about them? Do they reflect your own fears? Or maybe every interaction is giving you an opportunity to practice compassion and patience. Maybe you have guilt about setting boundaries in your life and there is a teed-up opportunity that you keep missing. 

That Job You Lost: It’s painful to feel rejected and a loss of a job can feel like a breakup. But it’s rare I’ve known someone to lose a job, who with some evaluation and responsibility, didn’t end up in a better situation. What skills were you lacking? How were you showing up? Were you ignoring your own intuition and needs that led to your performance suffering? If you take 100% responsibility, what did this experience teach you? 

That Financial Failure: Maybe it was a bad investment, or impulsive spending, or general lack of savings.  Check in with where you are placing the blame. Do you feel like a victim about it or is there something in here that can be learned? Most of us have a particularly complex relationship to money. Have you taken the time to evaluate both your mindset and your mechanics? Consider that the hardship has its own lessons - learning to appreciate the intangible gifts in your life - the support of friends and family, the simple pleasure of a (free) walk in nature, the opportunity to ask for help. 

Your Kids: There is no button pusher quite like a child. While they’re just doing their thing, like taking an hour to put on a pair of pants, or making abstract art on your walls, you’re wondering how they can so easily take you from zero to 60 in 2 seconds. Children teach us about our fears, our egos, and of course, our levels of patience and compassion. They also teach us how to be curious, open, and resilient. 

Difficult people & difficult situations will always create a condition for learning something about yourself, who you are, and where there is room for gratitude and growth….if you’re willing to look. 

Whenever the going gets rough, looking for the teacher...yes, even that parking ticket. 

In the comments below, I’d love to hear whom you consider your greatest teacher. And I’d also love to hear about a difficult situation or person who was a less obvious, but still powerful teacher. 


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