You know what kind of people learn really well?
That may seem blatantly obvious, but it’s alarming how many people aren’t very teachable.
Here’s the thing:
Being teachable has very little to do with being smart.
Sure, it helps. Any time someone is a quick-study, learning has the potential to go faster. But I submit that there are a great many people out there who are teachable, but not very smart–and they do as well or better than those who are smarter, but not as teachable.
Let’s consider the qualities in question.
#1 Teachable people are humble.
They don’t know-it-all, and they readily admit that. They see no shame in saying, “Teach me!” instead of pulling out their best bored teenager voice and saying, “I know, Mom. I’m not stupid!”
No one’s saying anything about being stupid. Except that being too proud to admit you don’t know something is incredibly stupid.
If we acknowledge our lack of knowledge, then we will ask questions. And asking questions (as even Elmo will tell you) is a good way of finding things out. When a writer’s mind starts asking questions, it opens to possible answers, applications and ideas. The instruction and information that come as a result of those questions will either give you material about which to write, or it will give you tools with which to make what you write better or more accessible.
#2 Teachable people are diligent.
They recognize that things take time to learn.
My husband is a prime example of this. As a Chilean ESL student in a full-immersion language school here in the States, he went the extra three miles. Every day, after five hours of classes, he spent another five hours in the library studying English. He talked to as many native English speakers as he could, learning to decipher what their speech patterns were–gleaning those things that cannot be learned from a stuffy grammar text book. He watched the news in English, knowing that anchormen like Tom Brokaw or Peter Jennings (remember them?) used clear, educated English. He worked hard. Really hard. And he learned the language in near record time. From zero to university-ready in nine months. Graduate level university classes, by the way.
He’s no dummy, but even he would not classify himself as a genius linguistically. His diligence paid off. He now has a doctorate!
Writers have got to write every day. We have got to use and hone and practice our craft all the time. The sheer volume of writing we produce, whether or not it is ever read by eyes other than our own, will improve our ability to write well. But that takes hard work.
#3 Teachable people are deep.
This is because they take things into themselves and mix them around and figure out where they fit. It’s as if they are giant vats for mixing dough at a bakery. Ideas, like ingredients, come in a little at a time, and eventually they blend, and grow, and rise, and become something delicious that is worth sharing.
If writing is to have the enticing power of aromatic, soft, warm bread, we have to put more than one ingredient into our writing. We can’t rehash only one idea. We can’t even take several ideas and mix them haphazardly together. Any baker can tell you that.
This gets tricky for some because it requires going back to #2. To get deeper into life and understand more than the superficial signals of society, we must diligently strive to draw connections between things and people and ideas. We must find how they relate to one another for good or bad. We must see life as being about relationships, not stuff.
When we do, our writing will relate to the hearts of our readers, not just appeal to a vague sense of status or conformity or bling.
A word to those for whom the idea of being teachable feels weak:
Confidence and conceit are two different things.
Confidence will allow one to question and learn while retaining a security in one’s own capacities. Confidence will, in turn, be able to transform newfound knowledge into something useful and beautiful for others.
Conceit will just annoy the people around you and stop the learning process before it begins.
Being teachable means being grow-able, improve-able, or just plain more able.