In the first half of our lives, our teachers are always our elders. Remember elementary school? When you thought your teachers were unfathomably old? (In retrospect, most were probably in their 30s, maybe 40s, max!)
Eventually, we might find ourselves older than our teachers (as well as our doctors, lawyers, hairdressers, therapists, and the list goes on). Does that matter? Do you seek professionals older than you are, assuming that they have more experience, wisdom, or parallel experiences? Or do you prefer the fresh perspective of youth or the generation-gap-free camaraderie of a peer?
On her blog, Linda’s Yoga Journey, Linda recently wrote a post with 50-something take on yoga teachers’ ages. It made me think about my own preferences. For coaching on sports (improving my freestyle flip turn, for example) or languages or random new hobbies (knitting is on my list), I’m open to all ages, assuming that the instructor is skilled and articulate.
For medical care, I lean toward older and experienced. I’ve seen doctors almost straight out of residency and found them both careful and clueless. For any surgery or simply the keenest diagnoses, I want a doc with a decade (and ideally more) years of practice.
For yoga, it all depends on my objectives: If I’m just dropping in on a class purely to work out or for a break, age is irrelevant if the teacher has strong asana and sequencing chops. But for a long-term mentor teacher, I admit that I do seek someone older. Perhaps I expect an older person better to understand human nature, better to have something important to teach me: not just about asanas, but about life.
Is this a misassumption? Can that fresh-faced 20-something actually teach me about philosophy and people, life and death, love and squalor?
My knee-jerk reaction: no way. But then I marvel at the great writers of generations past. Norman Mailer wrote The Naked and the Dead at age 25. Jane Austen wrote Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice in her early 20s (they were published in her later 30s but she’d written them much earlier). A bit older, but still only 31, JD Salinger wrote The Catcher in the Rye. No one can deny that these were mature minds at work. (I’m mentioning writers rather than musical, mathematical, artistic, or athletic prodigies because, to me, quality literature requires more than raw genius, but also an understanding of human nature.)
To be continued…
RECOMMENDED READING: Twentys0mething Seattle yoga teacher Nikki Chau (a shining example of an early blooming yogi) pointed me to an essay on choosing a teacher, by Theresa Elliott, her teacher. Elliott recommends finding a teacher within a decade of your own age.