When I started teaching professionally, I was faced with a dilemma: Present information in the conventional manner and try to look and act the part of “The Expert,” or on the other hand, honor the inspiration of my own unique creative process. I tried my best to do the first option and it didn’t fit me at all. I can’t follow a schedule no matter how hard I try, and I spend way too much time musing about odd things when I should be working. My mind and heart do not operate on a linear path, and frankly, doing things in a prescribed way is just not interesting to me.
Developing the ability to simultaneously be “Teacher” and “Authentically Me” has been a path of challenge and growth, and my teaching work became a practice of showing up and walking my talk. I ultimately wrote a book to help guide me through the rapids. Getting Messy: A Guide to Taking Risks and Opening the Imagination gave me a way to understand how to play and work as a creative person in a traditional service profession. My intent was to know what boundaries and edges I could cross with my students so that they would be comfortable, yet challenged and inspired by what I knew I could offer them.
In case you’re wondering, “messy” doesn’t mean literal mess. (I’m actually a neatnik.) Messy means plunging into the unknown–befriending things and people that don’t follow established rules, navigating through confusion and perplexity. Contrary to sane reasoning, I feel most alive when I’m in situations where I don’t know what I’m doing. Perplexing situations give my rational mind an opportunity to “get lost,” which in turn opens space for something more imaginative to come through. When I’m confused or don’t see a clear path, I get to rely on something greater than myself. That’s when I feel most alive.
Getting Messy offers those of us in service professions a way to stay in the juice, inspiration, and “messy muck” (for lack of a better word) and still hold the title of “teacher” (or counselor, coach, therapist, mentor, manager.) But after I finished it a funny thing happened. I realized that Getting Messy wasn’t just for teachers. It’s for anyone who wants to live an interesting, creative life. From the responses I’ve received, it takes people to places they haven’t been before and offers a warm foundation to support and inspire creative journeys. It offers sanity in the face of new possibilities.
As teachers, mentors, coaches, counselors, and trainers what we point to is more important than what we actually say. Good teaching is not about “look at me”; it’s about “look beyond me.” Thank goodness.