Mar 24, 2011

When do you stop learning?

I was accused recently of always "stepping over the line and trying to 'grow'" (yes, with finger quotes).

I'm not really sure what to make of this, as in fact that is exactly what I am trying to do, what I've spent my entire adult life trying to do-- to get better at whatever it is I'm learning, to master things, and yes, to 'grow' (finger quotes). But it was fairly clear that this person was leveling a criticism at me, for trying to be something that I'm not. For quite literally overstepping (he demonstrated this with a giant step over an imaginary line).

You hear a lot about "lifelong learning," which is a euphemism for continuing education, which is itself a euphemism for adult education. And the reason we keep having to run away from these phrases is that there is such a fear, or distaste, or even contempt for the person who admits that they don't know everything.

Unlike other professions, figure skaters reach their skills peak at a very young age, and grow up hearing a lot about how wonderful they are. Sometimes they can't get past it; they don't learn that skill at coaching is not the same as skill at skating, and that coaching is an adult profession that you learn as an adult, not something you pick up from years spent as a student. If that was possible, we'd all be math teachers. (Although, truth be told, most figure skating coaches needs must learn on the job, since until recently there were no courses in this, and even now the education offered by the Professional Skaters Association and Ice Skating Institute are entirely at-will. You don't have to do continuing ed to get a rink to hire you as a coach.)

I never skated at the high level that other coaches have. If I wanted to coach, I had to come at it from another angle. Where other coaches succeed via their skill at skating, I had to succeed via my skill at teaching. There is a fear among some coaches that I will "overstep" right into their expertise-- high level or competitive skaters. Mind you, only one of them has ever asked me why I keep trying to learn about high level skaters, or if I want to move into teaching them. For the record, I don't. It's neither appropriate based on my background, desirable based on my ambitions, or necessary based on the market. I just like to, well, "grow."

What we all do as adults, is take our hobbies and our talents-- music, or writing, or math-- and turn them into professions. We train, and study, and apprentice to achieve the skills we need as teachers, managers, or scientists working in whatever field drew us.

Figure skating was my hobby. I studied and trained and apprenticed so that it could be my profession. I sacrificed a lot to do this, starting with a very high paying job, leaving behind not just the salary, but the reputation I'd built over years in that field.

I want to be good at what I do. If this means that I admit to gaps in my knowledge and ability, this is a strength, not a weakness. But apparently figure skaters don't see that.


  1. Those of us who fall into the AOS category, who, like you, also endeavor toward "lifelong learning," struggle with confronting this same negative attitude from coaches and less driven adult skaters. I know I'll probably never achieve a double axel. But that doesn't mean I don't have a desire to learn, in THEORY, how one is done. My age doesn't entitle a coach to withhold this knowledge from me. It is frustrating having to deal with coaches that clearly show more exuberance and interest in training younger skaters but will not admit their indifference toward adults and their aspirations. It is equally irritating having to withstand disapproving comments and gestures from other adult skaters who can't understand why on earth I'd want to attempt the same jump thirty times in a session, when the odds are pretty high I'll be landing it on my backside. It's next to impossible to get them to understand the overwhelming power of my passion when they ask why I keep coming back to freestyle skating after each new injury. Never mind my frustration with rink management, who time and again appeal to me to skate with the adults when the adult programs never incorporate any elements more difficult than a toe loop. I'm not allowed to skate with the kids, but I'm not challenged through skating with the adults, and yet I'm regarded with disdain for my abstention from group programs.

    The former feel threatened for lack of self-confidence envy an ambition they don't share, or are too lazy to step up to the plate.

    Oh, Xan. I wish I couldn't relate. Hang in there.

  2. Anonymous-- it's the feedback and affection I get from the students and parents that keep me going. And also what makes other coaches nervous. Thanks for the vote of confidence.

  3. From what I observe and hear, it's evident you rock your lessons!! I truly respect your professionalism and desire to GROW.

  4. You keep on being awesome, Xan. Haters gonna hate.

  5. Unfortunately, this isn't really a skating thing. Whenever someone shows enthusiasm for learning from another adult, it usually goes from "ok, I would love to teach you" to "Are you trying to take my job?" very quickly. Add to that a career that is inherently ruthless with all of the coach changes that happen, and you have a deadly mixture. I have always wondered where skating would be if it was actually run by people that wanted to be teachers, instead of mostly former skaters. Rarely are elite athletes very good coaches as they have a tough time relating to the "average" person. But, skating seems to be filled with people that mostly performed at really high levels - either competitively or show skating. Not sure if that is good or not.

  6. I agree with Mac that this isn't really a skating thing. In my experience it isn't just a professional thing either. It seems to come with the territory of striving to grow in any field in any way. This resistance can come from the people you work with, study with, are friends with- it can even come from complete strangers or those who you are closely related to- and it can happen at any age.

    The important thing to remember in all of this is that when you are pursuing what is right for you it doesn't matter how many people or circumstances are lined up against you, your responsibility remains the same- to do what is right step by step and day by day.

    I love you and am so excited and grateful for who you are choosing to become in part because as you are becoming you share the best of yourself and help to raise the rest of us up with you! Thank you!