Cliches become cliches for a reason. ‘Say yes to the things that scare you’ is a great example. And one that I believe in. And experience frequently. I get the same mix of fear and excitement each time I’m asked to speak at an event. My first thought is always ‘I can’t do that’. I have the same reaction before I teach a workshop or class. I’m always nervous, worried that I don’t have the knowledge and won’t be up to the job. And with each new client, I want to run away.
Do I love it?
By now you might be wondering how I’ve managed to be a professional dog trainer for 30 years? Surely I’m exaggerating? I can’t have felt this way before every puppy class, or every scent workshop? But the truth is, I have. And I still do. Due to the pandemic, I’ve not taught any in person workshops for almost a full year. All the diary dates were cancelled. My trips to Jersey and Guernsey. My series of local workshops close to home. Everything went out the window. And a part of me was relieved. I know, it’s sacrilege to say so. I love my job and I was grateful for the bookings. And truth be told, I was excited about them too.
Wait, was I excited to do them or relived not to do them? The not so simple answer is – both! Emotions are so confusing. I know I can cancel bookings. I always have that option. But I hate to let people down and so I never cancel unless I’m extremely ill (even then I have still delivered workshops and classes) or due to circumstances beyond my control – Covid being the current example. As I write, I realise that I am often in a state of conflict. Which is uncomfortable and adrenalising. No wonder I was always tired.
I’ve recently been coaching online and have done a few private, socially distanced training sessions. I can’t tell you how nervous I’ve been after so long of not teaching or helping in person. But wow, the joy of knowing I’ve still ‘got it’. And the fascination of learning new aspects of scentwork, or testing old ideas with new dogs. I always learn so much from each client, and each dog. It’s been such a joy and one that I hadn’t realised just how much I’d missed.
Experience has taught me how to move through these uncomfortable emotional states. My mantra is that if I screw up, if I give a poor talk or mess up during a workshop, nobody will die. This may sound dramatic but in my mind dying is the worst case scenario. I won’t die if people disagree with me. Or if they don’t like my humour. Or if they prefer to train in a different way to me. And nobody will be harmed if they dislike my teaching style or hate my writing.
Now that I’m happy that nobody will die, I can get down to the job in hand. Teaching in person at classes, workshops, 121’s is all about being in the moment. I can’t be thinking about how I felt 5 minutes ago, or what I’ll be doing later. I have to be in the moment. And that is exhilarating. And freeing. I suppose it’s my version of mindfulness. Of paying attention so much that all that matters is the person and the dog in front of me.
Knowledge from the depths
It’s a weird phenomenon, but when I’m working, knowledge and skills that I didn’t know I had or forgotten that I knew, pop up. I hear myself giving advice or using a technique that was lodged so far back in my memory that I wouldn’t have been able to call it to mind if somebody asked me about it. But when I have two (usually dog and person) faces looking at me expectantly, everything becomes available to me. All I’ve learned comes bubbling up. It’s hard to explain.
I experience something similar when I’m writing. I find myself using language and words that I didn’t know I knew. Or wasn’t aware that I understood the meaning of. But which fit perfectly into whatever I’m writing. I love language and reading. I’ve always got a few books on the go. And I believe that having a rich an varied vocabulary comes from unconsciously soaking up all that great literature. I get frustrated that I can’t recall in detail passages or quotes or learning like I used to in my younger days. But when I’m writing, it gives me a glimpse of just how much has actually gone into my hard working grey cells.
Go with the flow
A curious aspect of writing is that I never quite know where it will take me. It sounds preposterous not to know exactly what I’m going to write about. But as I start to type, my subconscious seems to run ahead of my conscious thoughts. It leaps over my cerebrum straight into my finger tips. Once on the screen I can of course decide to discard the unexpected change in direction. But more often than not, I go with it. For example, I had no idea that I’d be writing about my cerebrum when I sat down to write this post. But hey, that’s the fun of it.
This happens in these blogs more than in any of the instructional and educational writing I do. There, it is important to be clear, have a plan and be able to describe something in a way that makes it easy for follow and understand. But even then, language and ideas continue to flow. It’s just that my editing skills have to be more on point. With books and courses, I have landmarks and teaching points mapped out along the way to stop me from drifting too far from my destination.
I believe that the thirst for knowledge is one of my great driving forces. In those moments when I’ve been invited to speak in public, when my instinct is screaming ‘No, don’t do it!!!!!’ it’s my curiosity that gets me through. I’ve discovered that saying yes to my most feared requests – public speaking events – yields some of the greatest understanding. Researching deeper into my topics is something I love to do. Sometimes it seems frivolous when my goals should be generating money to pay the bills in the short term. But if I’m being asked to speak on an area or topic, I am obliged to do my homework. And so I can research guilt free.
Often, the results of this research is not just a presentation. Many times it develops into a chapter in a book. Or into a course. This is how the courses on Puppy Scentwork and Senior Scentwork started. Presenting at two events, one dedicated to pups and the other to older dogs, gave me permission to delve deeply into both. And what a joy it was. I learned so much. And my understanding of how I was working with pups and seniors made sense to me and was enhanced by what I’d unearthed. And of course, once I’d made my discoveries and expanded my own understanding, I couldn’t wait to share it with others.
Sharing knowledge is what I love. I adore being able to pass on facts, skills, understanding. Even as I write this my heart rate has increased, such is the excitement and passion I have for what I do. I have learned that when I want to say no, saying yes is usually the better option. It bears fruit in the moment as I research; in the future as I look forward to sharing my knowledge; and ultimately it’s there for everyone to discover through my online courses. I believe they will be my legacy. A repository for my knowledge that can be accessed by anyone who is interested. And a helping hand for anyone who needs it.
‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’ is pretty good advice. Cliche or not, it has stood me in good stead. Does it mean I never say no? No! But now I (hopefully) say no for the right reasons, not because I’m afraid.