Powerful beyond measure

This is to the teachers I am working with on our current CELTA course.

We have come a long way since the beginning, two weeks ago.  Through your journals I have had the privilege of following your developmental and emotional journey.

Of all the ideas, thoughts, questions and wishes that keep recurring, one of the most frequent is that of fear.

This has been expressed by each of you, each in your own way, at some point up to now in the course. Here are two comments that caught my attention:

I’m scared to take risks because I’m being assessed.

I didn’t feel confident enough to do something new.

I can understand where you are coming from, but I would like to tell you now that the time for fear is over.

I’m scared to take risks because I’m being assessed

I know that I can seem like a very dark cloud on your horizon when I am sitting in your classroom, watching you at work, scrutinising every action you take. Many people feel frightened by the simple fact of observation.  It is easy to be paralysed by this fear.  However, if you are to grow and develop, you need to see this fear for what it is: just your reaction to a circumstance – no more, no less.

What is it that you are afraid of? If you are anything like me, it is the fear of failure, however that is defined.

I have spent years wrestling with this fear: every time I work with you, every time you watch me at work wth other students, every time I post something on this blog, every time I give a conference talk.  I am scared of the judgement of others, scared that I will be found wanting.

Such fear may always be with you, and I suspect it will always be with me, but these days I have found ways to put this fear in its place, move it aside and enable myself to take those new steps forward into unknown territory.  One thing that has helped me is a question.  Perhaps you have even heard this question before.

“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

Spencer Johnson

As Ken Robinson has said, you will never create anything of value if you are not prepared to be wrong; and teaching – above all else – is the business of creating something of value.  So as teachers (and you and I aspire to be such), we cannot afford to be limited in the choices we make for our learners or for ourselves by fear of someone else’s opinion.

I didn’t feel confident enough to do something new.

On the other hand, you may not feel intimidated by forces from the outside; instead, you may be stopped from development by your own sense of inadequacy.  You may have felt doubt in your own capacity, your own competence – and for this reason, when faced with an opportunity to take a new path in your professional practice, you baulked and shied away.

This leaves a bitter taste in the mouth, one that I also know well.  I have shied away from certain things in the classroom (not to mention in life) because I doubted my ability to measure up to them.  The terrible thing is not that I was “cowardly” or any such thing; the terrible thing is that, in not trying to take the hurdle, I will never know if I would have made it or not.

The worst failures are the ones that we deny ourselves the chance to make.

I told some of you, and I will repeat it now, that I have an unshakable confidence in your capacity for greatness, in your potential for professional mastery.  I may well have more confidence in this than you do yourselves.  I would ask you to meet me half-way.  The next time you are planning a lesson or are in the middle of one, and you are faced with an opportunity to take a risk, move beyond your limits, and enter the arena of potential failure, recall this following statement, and afterwards, make your move:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate; our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure”

Marianne Williamson



Johnson, S (1998) Who Moved My Cheese?, London, Vermilion

Robinson, K. (2006) Are Schools Killing Creativity?”, TED Talk retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html on Sunday 13 November 2011 at 16:18hrs GMT

Williamson, M. (1992) A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles”, Harper Collins


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