Everything is a life lesson - optimise each moment of learning
Updated: Jul 25, 2022
I used to teach drama, and when I did I taught teamwork, co-operation, discipline, confidence and leadership. Some students learned that - some just learned drama.
But do you look at every new thing as “Something extra” which, as much as you like doing it…or liked being invited, causes you more hassle? Take a “borg” approach – assimilate the skills rather than “add” them!
Having spent over 25 years producing community theatre I know what it’s like to motivate volunteers who have their own lives and commitments – without the “incentive” of money. I will always be grateful because through that – and watching both effective and poor managers in my own working life – I had enough material to write my first book, which I then turned into a teaching programme for Universities, and I still write articles on. Every single thing you do, helps you grow. That in turn helps you in your job, your personal life, your relationships, your hobbies – and so on, but you need to see it that way.
Within those 25 years I went through some personal upheavals and began to work a lot on my self-value with coaches as well as short stints with therapists. Some concepts and exercises I loved, others I didn’t connect with; and I took a number of professional courses – Dialectic Behaviour Therapy, NLP, Criminology – some out of professional interest, some to learn more about my thinking and to continue my personal development, and much of the practical training I worked into another taught programme - this time on applied Mindfulness which formed the basis of my second book. (I also developed a much lighter approach to my feelings on divorce by calling my ex "Starter husband"...now upgraded to version 2.0 - bringing a sense of humour, and perhaps greater openness, which serves my work positively.)
I continue to do all the things I did before, using my performance - and even my time as an aerobics instructor - to help my training and coaching holding a stage as a professional facilitator and to build confidence in others through drama techniques in a session; as a coach I have also had to reflect and in thinking about what I found tough – and rewarding, I saw that too could feed into exercises I could teach others; and finally, through everything both personal and professional, I continue to use positivity as my core value, and I think I now have a tiny corner of the world I really like living in.
Yet so often, I see people who want to do a hobby or try something different or even relax(!) – but they don’t have time. I work with them – I manage the tantrums from my actors who’ve had a bad day and they “just feel like chucking the whole show in, frankly” (despite the fact that it’s a skill for which they are recognized, praised, and truly enjoy when it happens); I hold the anxieties of clients who know they need to learn a new skill and know they will benefit immeasurably with new opportunities and confidence but have convinced themselves they’ll “…be just fine where I am right now, I don’t need anything else.” (when I know they would love that promotion); and I look at people who have so many projects on the go – each of which gives them pleasure when they are engaged with them, but have got them so compartmentalized that they feel like they are dragging a number of heavy suitcases, rather than entering a whole shop’s worth of potential fun.
There are benefits from compartmentalizing ourselves – there are more if we allow a bit of a blend.
Optimisation is the new “transferrable skills”
Optimisation is one of the key words that I talk about in my forthcoming book The Leader's Guide to Resilience. It’s not simply about “If you’re going to do it, you may as well do it well”…that’s of course true, but it’s very finite, and quite blinkered when you get down to it! Try an outlook of “If I’m going to put time and effort into it anyway, how far can it take me?”
The expert comment I write for the media forms the basis of these articles. The articles may in turn contribute to my teaching; my teaching reminds me personally to be the best I can be. Why separate all the areas you are putting time and effort into? In every single thing you do you learn, or form something that will benefit ALL aspects of your life.
The 13 Year JCS Lockdown Reunion
Recently I got back in touch with a number of cast members through a “lockdown reunion” I held for "Jesus Christ Superstar" - a show we did 13 years go at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I asked them for “life lessons” – they gave them on the video, but a few of them also emailed me personally with:
“I wouldn’t be where I am now if I didn’t get the discipline off you when I needed it back [then]…you gave me a chance in school.” This young man now runs a pub in Epsom taking over £6m in revenue a year.
“You helped me gain confidence and gave me a focus to be successful” This guy is now an award winning sales manager delivering coaching, presentations and mentoring others
And for my own part I messaged one of my colleagues – an unofficial mentor to me, to thank him for helping shape the person I have now become. His advice, always offered on point and at exactly the right moment, helped smooth out a lot of rough edges that could have caused me bigger problems – even though my heart was always in the right place.
We didn’t just learn – or teach – subjects at school – we set down life skills, but only because we looked at them that way.
Everything you do in life is a learning opportunity
- Afraid of conflict in your personal life? How would your professional approach to a disagreement help you?
- Low on self-value? How do your best clients see you and why?
- Struggling with self-discipline? What if it was a work presentation – what would get you through then?
I currently support some of my clients by asking them to think about the professional skills that can enhance their personal ones and vice versa:
- Difficult client? How might you interpret the behaviour if s/he was your son or daughter?
I’m not saying it’ll work every time, but if you remain open to everything you are doing – minus the context – all your behaviours are part of who you are and how you are capable of taking action.
This also works for skills.
- Rather than seeing a hobby as something “extra” you need to do a) remind yourself of the fun you get out of the end product; but also b) think about how the effort you’re going to put in can benefit you in other areas.
- Reflect on your tasks not just in the context of the task, but in the wider sense – for example, if you are baking with your children – how might the way you instruct, or the insights of your children, or the creativity you express through it benefit your next work piece? Not only that, how does sharing what you’ve done (at a safe social distance), strengthen your relationships with friends, or neighbours or communities?
- …and if you’re going to do it anyway – then don't just do it well - enjoy it well because that works wonders for your own personal wellbeing!
It’s not the case that we don't respect transferrable skills – I sometimes think we just don’t recognize them.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience For quick tips and tools: click for SKILL PILL and Q&A videos and here for Media appearances. Twitter/IG @draudreyt