Am I good enough? It’s a terrible question, and if it plagues you at every turn, you are not alone. I recently conducted an informal poll, asking people what their #1 fear was going into a yoga teacher training. Sadly, the vast majority said “not being good enough.”
But good enough as a metric, especially in yoga (both in the practice and teaching of it) doesn’t even make sense. You can’t quantify what it is you’re doing or gaining or teaching or learning, not in the way you can measure achievement in science or math. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that, according to recent research, we’re culturally conditioned to feel as if we really are just not good enough. This comes in part from a false perception we have around struggling. We’re culturally conditioned to place natural talent above hard work. So, we’ll rank as better someone who appears to be naturally gifted than the person who worked really hard to get to the same place. In eastern educational systems, that is reversed. When I was teaching in Japan back in 2003, it wasn’t the quickest or smartest who were called to the front, it was those who were working the hardest, but still not quite getting it. Then, when that metaphorical lightbulb went off, everyone would celebrate the victory together. Kids in Japan grow up with an appreciation of struggle above natural talent. An NPR story with Jim Stigler illustrates that this phenomenon hasn’t changed much over the years:
In 1979, when Jim Stigler was still a graduate student at the University of Michigan, he went to Japan to research teaching methods and found himself sitting in the back row of a crowded fourth-grade math class.
“The teacher was trying to teach the class how to draw three-dimensional cubes on paper,” Stigler explains, “and one kid was just totally having trouble with it. His cube looked all cockeyed, so the teacher said to him, ‘Why don’t you go put yours on the board?’ So right there I thought, ‘That’s interesting! He took the one who can’t do it and told him to go and put it on the board.’
In America, it’s usually the best kid in the class who’s invited to the board. So the kid came up very dutifully, started drawing, but couldn’t make the cube work. Every couple minutes, the teacher would ask the rest of the class whether the kid had gotten it right and the class would shake their heads no. And as this went on, Stigler noticed that he, Stigler – who, by the way, is now a professor at UCLA – anyway, he, Stigler, was getting more and more and more anxious.
STIGLER: I was sitting there starting to perspire because I was really empathizing for this kid. And I thought, this kid is going to break into tears. But then I realized, he didn’t break into tears. He just kept up there. And at the end of the class, he did make his cube look right. And the teacher said to the class: How does that look class. And they all looked up and said: He did it.
SPIEGEL: Then the class broke into applause, and the kid smiled a huge smile and sat down, clearly proud of himself. Which, Stigler says, got him thinking about a lot of things, but in particular about how these two cultures – East and West – approach the experience of intellectual struggle.
STIGLER: From very early ages, we see struggle as an indicator that you’re just not very smart. It’s a sign of low ability. People who are smart don’t struggle, they just naturally get it. It’s our folk theory, whereas in Asian cultures they tend to see struggle more as an opportunity.
SPIEGEL: In Eastern cultures, it’s just assumed that struggle is a predictable part of the learning process. Everyone is expected to struggle. And, in a way, struggling is a chance to show that you have what it takes emotionally to overcome the problem by having the strength to persist through that struggle.”