Thursday 20 January
by Marta Brzosko
I recently came to terms with this:
If you’re doing something for the first time, you won’t feel ready for it. That’s impossible.
How can you feel confident about leading a workshop if you’ve never done it before? Confidence is an after-effect of experience — not a prerequisite to it.
For a long time, my perceived lack of “readiness” paralyzed me. I felt a strong urge to organize a workshop, a sharing circle, a personal growth event. I needed it, and I sensed people around me did, too. Occasionally, I’d support a workshop when someone else put forward the idea and invited me to tag along.
But to proactively propose a theme and program and invite people in? That seemed inconceivable. I kept telling myself that I needed to get my shit together first. I needed to learn more. I needed greater self-confidence.
Meanwhile, it felt like my shit kept falling apart rather than assembling itself. I realized that if I don’t change my mindset, I may just never get down to doing what I felt called to.
At the end of the second UK lockdown, I came to the Salisbury Centre’s event called CommuniTea. People were asking each other what activities they wanted to see and organize in the Centre after months of isolation.
To my surprise, I heard myself talking about my deep need for a more connection with others. I suggested that maybe, possibly, I could one day think about holding an authentic relating workshop.
Before I knew it, I was talking to the Centre’s Community Development Worker Susannah about how to make it happen.
Susannah quickly became my mentor and greatest supporter in organizing the workshop. She helped me with the technicalities and logistics, as well as crystalizing the message I wanted my workshop to convey.
All that help was invaluable for sure. But even more importantly, Susannah did one thing that enabled me to believe I was capable of hosting a workshop.
In one of our first conversations, I told her that my biggest fear wasn’t my lack of knowledge or understanding of the topic. I was confident enough about theory. “But how can I hold a workshop about authentic relating when I’m such a socially awkward person myself? I am the one who struggles with connection. Are people even going to trust me?”
Susannah said something that changed my perspective on workshop facilitation forever.
“Yes, they will. And the fact that you struggle with connection yourself may be your biggest strength. Imagine coming to a relationship workshop led by someone who has a perfect social life. They’re always authentic, always speak their mind, and never feel even a hint of awkwardness. How are you supposed to relate to them if they’re so perfect?”
People understand each other better when they share the same struggle, need, or longing. I finally understood what this meant for me as a newbie facilitator.
If I could express how I often feel in social situations, how I’m hiding behind various masks and pretenses, that could give the participants a sense of reassurance. They’d know I’m just like them. From that point, we could try various activities together and I would explain how they’re supposed to work.
On a “meta” level, this happened between Susannah and me. She told me how she once felt exactly as I did. After moving to Edinburgh for the first time, she felt lost, alone, and in need of a sisterhood connection. That prompted her to organize a Women’s Circle in the Salisbury Centre, even though, at first, she had no idea how to do it.
That Women’s Circle was actually how we first met.
As she spoke, I saw my present self in her story. This put me at ease and helped me to trust her very quickly. From that point on, it was easier to learn from (and with) her as I proceeded to plan the workshop.
When leading a live workshop — whatever the theme is — it’s granted that you won’t be prepared for many things. Especially if you’re doing this for the first time.
You may have your agenda of activities. You may imagine people responding to them in certain ways. You may believe it’ll take a certain amount of time.
All of this is put to a test the moment your workshop begins. It’s a given that at least some things will go very differently than what you planned. You won’t know how to respond at first. You’ll need to improvise.
At first, I was terrified of that before my workshop. I hated the idea that I won’t be able to control everything. I feared being exposed as incompetent.
Then, as I was reading a manual from Authentic Revolution on how to create an Authentic Community (you can download it here, it’s great stuff!), I came across an important insight. As the manual explained what kind of situations a facilitator should be ready to confront, there was also side-note on what it means:
“by “confront” I mean that you are totally welcome to have no idea what to do when the situations come up, but know whether or not you’re okay with not knowing what to do!”
To be the workshop facilitator isn’t to be a “teacher.” It is to be a student — just like all the other people in the room. That’s how you become okay with not knowing what to do sometimes. That’s how you give yourself permission to figure it out on the spot — and see nothing wrong with it!
For a long time, I believed that the biggest value of any workshop is the information a facilitator shares. It’s your expertise that counts, right? Now I believe that, even though solid knowledge certainly has value, there’s something that is possibly even more important — especially when it comes to personal growth-related workshops.
That thing is creating a safe container for people to experience things.
When people learn about relationships, personal growth, psychology, and the like, they need to do it through experience. The biggest value of my authentic relating workshop wasn’t me theorizing about human connection. It was the structured activities I introduced that allowed people to have a direct experience of it. That’s what helped them learn what they needed to learn.
To create and hold a “safe container” means to frame the experience in a way that allows people to get deeper and usual. In my workshop, we did it by setting agreements according to which we would interact (I developed them based on Sara Ness’ agreements examples). They allowed everyone to feel safe and respected, no matter what came up in the exercises.
As the workshop continued, I became increasingly aware that whatever happened within the container was beyond my control. Different groups were relating in different ways and rhythms — and this wasn’t any of my business. All I did was continuing to hold space so the participants could frame everything that happened as a learning experience.
In this final section, I want to give you a few reasons to “teach what you need to learn” — even if you’re not expert at it.
While “teaching” may not be the best word here, this well-worn phrase captures the essence of why being imperfect at something makes you a great person to create learning opportunities around it.
First things first: When you feel like you’re missing a certain skill or competency in your life, you’re connected to the need associated with it. In my case, being socially isolated and awkward (even before the pandemic), gave me very real experience of what it means to live without (or with few) close, genuine relationships. Whenever I had an opportunity to connect with someone on a deeper level, I appreciated it immensely.
Being connected to why a specific competency is needed in the world helps you understand how it can help people thrive. This makes you a great steward of a workshop around that topic.
Secondly, by holding a workshop you’re sure to learn more about the topic. Many education theorists speak about this. Michael Simmons, for example, talks about the “explanation effect.” He claims that sharing knowledge with others is virtually the only way to fully absorb it ourselves.
If learning about a particular topic is important to you, sharing what you already know with others is a logical step. You’ll be forced to structure your thinking around the subject before you speak about it. You’ll get feedback from other people on whether what you’re sharing makes sense to them. You’ll gain a better understanding of where your knowledge feels complete, and where you still have lots to learn.
Finally — and, maybe most importantly — the world needs people to learn certain skills rapidly. In the face of the climate crisis, economical instability, and other global issues, like-minded people need to learn how to collaborate, and they need to learn it fast.
Among other things, this means we need accelerated personal growth. We can’t afford to wait for perfect teachers, gurus, and workshop facilitators with years of experience. Rather, we should all acknowledge that relevant education is one of our most-burning needs.
You may not create your workshop perfectly. You may make mistakes. You may not know how to confront certain situations.
And yet, your workshop will most surely do some good.
If your intention is pure and you have a general understanding of your topic, people will get what you’re trying to share. And in these crazy times, when so much of state education isn’t doing much more than confining our thinking into “appropriate” boxes — this is more than good enough.
Thanks for reading! I’ll be holding a fortnightly Authentic Connection Group at the Salisbury Centre, starting on 28th October. To secure your spot, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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