Recently, Blackburn House met with Susan Sachs, an incredible woman who runs Starfire consulting, an agency who often consults with various businesses and nonprofits about their structure and values. The meeting was long and drawn out. Overall, we, the Blackburn House Staff and the Blackburn House Administrative Team, spent about four hours in a room together discussing the structure of Blackburn House as a community development organization. I won’t bore you with the details of the meeting.
I will say that I felt great after the meeting, not because of what we accomplished but because of what I learned. I was working on a committee about our outreach goals for Blackburn House. Martha and Kelly were working with me. As communications and outreach coordinator, it made sense for me to be in this group. I sort of led the charge, albeit wrongly. Martha and Kelly let me voice what I thought the goals should be. Needless to say, even though I’ve worked with nonprofits, my idea of what goals are was completely wrong. You’re probably wondering why I feel so jazzed about being wrong. It was the process that made it better. Rather than cut me off, or tell me I had no idea what I was talking about, or give me a set of instructions to directly follow, Martha and Kelly let me make my mistakes. They followed along diligently. I was rattling of random goals and I could see Martha sort of smile a little too tightly and say, “Ok” after each goal. Perhaps, I imagined it, but I even think I saw some eye twitching between her and Kelly. She didn’t try and correct me, but she wrote down everything I said to present to the larger group. You might be thinking, well that was sort of dumb of Martha. She had the opportunity to teach me in that moment, to put me in place. But she didn’t, even though she knew what I was doing wasn’t right. By letting me make my mistake and learn from it myself, Martha taught me a lot more rather than trying to correct me, and she taught me something about teaching.
Often times when we teach, we hold on to insecurities. Our instinct is to react when somebody makes a mistake, to immediately call them out on their mistake. We don’t want them to mess up because it might mean that we have to start all over. We become insecure that it won’t be perfect, that we have to put in more work. Teaching is work, but it means not reacting to people. When we react to people, all we get is their reaction in return, and, usually, it’s not pleasant. When we teach, the hardest part is letting go. We have to let go, smile tightly, and say, “Ok.” As a kid, I always hated math. Often times, an entire math problem would be wrong from one tiny mistake. It was frustrating. I had one teacher who made us write out every single step we did, so that we could see where we made the mistake. It was tedious to write out simple addition and subtraction, but it helped. After completing the whole problem, I could look and see where I had messed up. When we live our mistakes, we’re able to see where we made that mistake.
At Susan’s meeting, I might’ve been completely wrong. But that’s not the point. The point is I now know why I’m wrong. I was able to live out my mistake and see how I was wrong. The phrase, “Fall down seven times, get up eight,” comes to mind. Learning is about making mistakes. Teaching becomes about letting people make mistakes. When we’re afraid to do either, we’ve lost the ability to grow.
I know this is maybe a little cheesy, but I want to say thank you to Martha and Kelly for being patient. Thank you for allowing me to make mistakes. Thank you for teaching.