Years ago, when I’d been doing calligraphy for less than two years, and it was still a pretty fresh, new passion for me, I flew back East to meet a friend of mine from the online calligraphy world, Sheryl, and to spend the weekend with her.
Sheryl lived in New Jersey, and she was teaching a workshop that weekend way out on Long Island, for a calligraphy guild called Island Scribes. I’d signed up to be one of the students in the workshop, so we had a long car drive ahead of us, with several joyful hours of uninterrupted conversation.
I don’t remember much about the details our conversation, except that at some point, Sheryl said to me, “You should teach.”
“Yeah,” I said, looking at my hands, “I’d love to teach someday.”
“No,” she said, “you should be teaching now.”
The Seed Is Planted
“Now?” I asked, abashed. “I’m not ready to teach yet! What could I possibly teach?”
Without batting an eye, Sheryl said, “I can think of ten things you could teach, right off the top of my head.”
“What??” I cried. That was ridiculous!
But Sheryl proceeded to list off more than ten things that I had expertise in: a variety of calligraphy hands (ie, lettering styles), art techniques, and I don’t know remember what else. It seriously blew my mind.
“But I’ve only been doing calligraphy for a couple of years!” I protested, “How can I teach?”
“Who cares?” said Sheryl. “You know what you’re doing, and you’d be a great teacher.”
I confess I was skeptical, but it got me thinking. Could I really teach now? I sure as heck didn’t feel ready, but if Sheryl thought I was, maybe she was right…
Pushed Out of the Nest
That weekend during the workshop, Sheryl threw me another curve when she announced that I was going to demonstrate my version of Neuland calligraphy, and handed the reins over to me for twenty minutes.
My heart was pounding, but I sat at the demo table, picked up my trusty 5mm Zig marker, and demonstrated the alphabet. As I drew the letters, I felt out how to describe what I was doing. It wasn’t the smoothest demo ever, but it made me realize that, hey, Sheryl was right — I could teach!
Was I prepared? Not in the sense of knowing in advance exactly what I was going to say or do, but it turns out I was ready for the challenge. All I needed was to take the leap.
And realistically, what I most needed was someone to push me from the nest, because I sure as heck wasn’t going to leap on my own!
Sheryl played the role of the mama bird that weekend. She saw that I was ready to fly long before I did, and she lovingly pushed me. She knew I’d never spread my wings without a little nudging.
Spreading My Wings
I came home from that weekend with Sheryl empowered to take the next step, and within days I’d organized my very first calligraphy workshop, teaching Neuland.
Actually, I’d been organizing calligraphy workshops for several months already, as the workshop chairperson for my local calligraphy guild, Pacific Scribes, but those workshops were always for other people to teach, usually itinerant teachers who’d fly in for the weekend just as Sheryl had driven to Long Island to teach for Island Scribes.
I was an efficient workshop chair, and I’d booked our calendar out a couple of years in advance. I knew that several people in the guild were dying to learn Neuland, and since we wouldn’t have space for a Neuland workshop on the Pacific Scribes calendar for at least two years — and since Neuland was a hand I knew well, because I’d invented my own way of doing it! — I figured it would be a good workshop to start with.
I was right. Ten people signed up, and paid real money, to do a one-day Neuland workshop with me!
I planned out my curriculum, created exemplars for my students, and when the day came for the workshop, I was a nervous wreck! My shoulders were practically knocking my ears from stress.
Looking back, I can see all the newbie moves I made, especially trying to cram way too much in. I basically opened up a fire hose and aimed it at my poor students!
But nobody died (including me), and in fact, everyone had a good time. They really liked it!
When the adrenaline rush was over, I almost collapsed from exhaustion (I’ve since learned to build in some down time after a big event — essential for native introverts), but I was also incredibly high. I did it!
That was the start. Within a couple of years I was teaching weekly classes, and traveling the country as one of the itinerant teachers I used to book as the workshop chair for Pacific Scribes!
All from a 20-minute demo, thrown to me as a curve ball when I was still afraid I wasn’t ready.
This is creative courage in action. This is how it works. You take a little leap, before you feel ready, and it’s that leap that helps you learn what you need to do next.
We think we need to be ready before we take the leap, but in fact it’s the leap-taking that makes you ready.
But, of course, taking the leap takes courage!
One of the things that bolsters courage is having a mama bird around to give you a nudge. That mama bird can take many forms: a friend (like Sheryl), a teacher, or a supportive community.
If you’ve been wanting to take some courageous actions, but have been stopped by fear or self-doubt, stay tuned, because I’m going to be running an experiment in creative courage starting next week.
I’ll be playing the roles of mama bird AND fledgling at the same time, nudging you to stretch your wings as I also stretch my own and take new leaps towards things that scare me.
It all starts on Tuesday, and you might just want to join me.
In the meantime, I’ll be sharing more stories of creative courage this week, so keep an eye out!
Now go get creating!
PS — Pssst! Know someone who might benefit from seeing this today? Pass it on!