Teaching is the best way to Learn
This past week I went home to visit Nebraska.
While I’m home I always make a point to visit my alma mater, the University of Nebraska. I do this both to see how things have changed and, most times, to teach.
Teaching is one of my favorite things to do because it benefits everyone involved. The students get to learn from a real-world, applied perspective and I get to learn from a perspective I couldn’t get unless I re-programmed my brain — novice, young, and curious.
In my opinion, teaching is the best way to learn, and here’s why.
Teaching will make you uncomfortable
Talking in front of an audience gives me butterflies. Every time.
I always get nervous about what I’m going to present. Will it be worthwhile? Will it be super boring and put everyone to sleep? Will everything I demo fail and blow up in my face?
I get nervous about my appearance. Did I spill anything on myself today? Do I have anything in my teeth? Does my breath still smell like onions from the gyro I ate for lunch?
I’ve taught for a few years now, across multiple campuses and events, but I still get the same feeling I got when I first started speaking. I think that happens to everyone tho. And if not, they’re probably a psychopath.
This past Friday I visited Jacht Ad Lab, the student agency at the University of Nebraska, to speak with them about trending technologies they should know about.
When I got to Jacht I took two steps in the door, stopped, walked back out to make sure I was in the right spot, then walked back in. The group was easily the largest I’d ever seen at Jacht and it was overwhelming at first sight.
Seeing all these new faces gave me that nervous feeling but it also gave me a feeling of pride in how much the program is growing.
Teaching will make you think different
I taught the Jachters about trending tech that they should be aware of so that they’re more prepared to talk to professionals when it‘s time for them to get a job.
While they had (for the most part) heard of everything I was talking about, most of them don’t regularly use a majority of the technologies I presented. And of those that do, an even smaller number had ever built anything or implemented it in real life.
Just being there to talk in an open forum manner allowed things to be more fluid and relaxed. It allowed them to interrupt me and ask questions about everything without stressing the rules. Any curiosity could be explored without much of a time limit. Not something they get every day with classroom lectures and studying for tests.
The questions students ask me are often questions I don’t really think about anymore because they’re so routine that they’re just unconscious processes at this point in my life. But getting asked about the fundamentals is good for us all because it makes you remember how important they really are.
One of the best I got asked was “How do you know when to implement each of these technologies?”
I paused for a second. I was somewhat in shock that of all the questions they could have asked about what I presented that day, that was the question, but also because I really had to take a second and think about it.
No matter what I’m talking about there’s always a couple questions that change the way I think about what I’m doing.
Teaching will humble you
I’m never satisfied with my work or my position in the world.
Don’t get me wrong, I know I’m in a good spot. Hell, I’m in an incredible spot! One of the best in the world, and that’s not hyperbole.
My lack of satisfaction has nothing to do with the people I work with, the projects I work on or anything of that nature, it’s just who I am. It’s how I was raised. It’s why my work turns out the way it does. And it’s why I’m in the position I’m in.
I know (in my mind) that we do great work at R/GA. I hear about it every time we win an award or break a record or do something that changes the world, but that’s not what I do it for. I do the things I do because I just like making cool shit and watching the world play with it.
Talking to these students reminded me how grateful I should be.
Seeing the excitement in their eyes when I showed them our work and getting to speak with them afterwards about their career goals was worth more than any award, press coverage or analytic.
Teaching is the best way to learn
Sometimes we get too wrapped up in our professional bubbles or tell ourselves that we don’t have time. But that’s a lie. You have time, you just need to make it.
Last Friday I met some incredible students. They were sharp in the classroom and just as much fun when we went out afterwards to grab food and talk about their passions and goals. I hope I’m privileged enough to work beside them at some point in my life, because I know they’re all going to do great things.
By teaching you’ll not only help shape the future of our world, you’ll also get asked questions you’d never expect, be reminded of how lucky you are to be where you are in life, and meet incredible people.
If there’s one thing I recommend to all professionals, it’s that you get out and teach.