Learning from Students
Recently I had a pleasant lunch with a former student. This happens more frequently than you would imagine. I enjoy staying connected with former students to see how their lives are progressing.
Josh is a former high school student of mine who is now a college junior. He is an aspiring writer who has all the talents to make his goal a reality. He had recently attended a writing seminar that greatly motivated him and he wanted to share what he had learned with me. The conference premise was that our entire life is a story. If we give the way we live our lives the same thought and importance that we would use on a story we are writing, the world would become a better place. Donald Miller, the conference speaker, said. “The best way to change the world is to tell a good story with your life.”
This concept resonated with Josh and he chatted for maybe half an hour sharing what he had learned. Josh even brought me my own copy of the conference workbook because he knew this topic would intrigue me also. He was right. I’ve been working my way through the activities the workbook suggests.
It was during this lunch Josh told me about one of my classroom lessons that had also wormed its way into his psyche. These are the moments a teacher lives for. A golden nugget. A student recounts a classroom conversation that has really become a part of the way a student lives.
Let me share that classroom conversation/lesson with you.
What is Comfortable?
I start by asking students to list words or things that they think of when I say the word comfortable. They usually list items like slippers, robes or sweat pants. Some go in the direction of comfort foods and list hot chocolate, mashed potatoes, pizza or warm brownies. Others describe a place like a comfy chair, their bed or lying on the beach. Once they’re deep into the conversation about comfort I pose a new question. “Is comfort ever a bad thing?”
Most immediately say, “No.” I wait. One time after a long silence one teen girl finally spoke up and said, “Well there is that old boyfriend that you’ve dated for years. You break up and get back together over and over again. Deep down you know he’s not really right for you anymore, but you keep going back to him because he’s comfortable.”
As soon as one person breaks through others chime in with their own examples.
“You know the outfit doesn’t flatter you, but it’s comfortable.”
“You have a friend you’ve outgrown. That friend is making poor choices, but their friendship is comfortable.”
Once we get that conversation flowing, I tell them the bad news about the comfort zone. We think if we are comfortable all is well. But when we are completely comfortable we aren’t growing. For a while this feels okay. But eventually we learn that if we aren’t growing we aren’t really even standing still. Our world is shrinking. We stagnate. And that no longer feels good.
It’s important if we want to live fully, that we make a conscious effort to push outside our comfort zone. Is it easy? Not usually.
The Teacher Learns
I never went into a restaurant to eat alone until I became a professional speaker. I thought I’d be too self conscious…look too pathetic…eating alone. I had to push outside that discomfort. Now it’s possible for me to drive through the city to an airport, fly into another city I’ve never visited before, rent a car and using Mapquest or GPS, drive hours to a speech location. Once there I check into a hotel, go to a restaurant alone, sleep and then give a speech in front of thousands. Sometimes I venture from one state to another in a series before traveling home to my comfort zone again. Increasing the size of our comfort zone opens up a world of possibilities. Confession: What remains as my only crutch? I still need to carry a book into that restaurant and read as I eat alone.
We much teach young people AND remind ourselves about the perils of the comfort zone and encourage them to expand their own. If you’re too afraid to drive into the city, before you know it you’ll be avoiding the interstate. Next you’ll avoid high traffic times on the state routes. If you’re not careful to force yourself through the discomfort, you’ll find yourself giving up more and more activities that you may have enjoyed. Your freedom goes down the drain. Comfort, packaged attractively, may keep us from living the lives we want.
Thanks Josh, for taking that lesson in and living accordingly. And even greater thanks for telling your teacher that you remembered. It was always my goal while in the classroom to share lessons that would change people’s lives.