The Only One Who Can Teach

“Nobody will teach you anything. You have to teach yourself.” — Derek Sivers

Have you ever read a book, and got nothing out of it?

Have you ever taken a class, and got nothing out of it?

The other day, I was chatting with Robin and I had commented about how ironic that I was reading an autobiography of Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, famous for her work on death and grief, but what I got out of it was her message on healing.

You know why? Because that was what I needed to hear.

Looking for Affirmation

We are all born with our personalities. Then we spend our early childhood blindly and wholly accepting the signals given — our parents or caregivers. These make up the core of our identity.

From that point on, we unconsciously look for information what resonates with Who-We-Are. Because it feels good to receive such information. It affirms Who-We-Are.

Being curious and learning new things is a part of that core that’s built into all of us by default. We are learning beings, because the nature built us that way. Learning is necessary for our survival, but also essential for our growth, happiness, and fulfillment.

Going back to the above example, you don’t remember every detail of every book you read, do you?

You only retain what resonate with you.

Teaches present information, but you are the one who draw from it. Chefs can prepare wonderful meal but you only get out what you choose to eat.

You are the only one teaching you.

Don’t make the mistake that teachers are the ones that gives us the knowledge and the wisdom. You do. There are things that can be learned from the most ineffective teachers. Or you may hire yourself the most renowned, experienced, accredited teacher and learn nothing. It’s all up to you.

Guide to Effective Learning

So how to you learn the most?

First, by knowing this truth, that you are the one who’s doing the teaching.

Secondly, by knowing yourself. We all have different learning styles. Figure it out. What we are interested in, what we resonate with — those are elements we discover. Don’t fight, don’t force yourself to learn what you’re not interested in. It’s futile — a waste of time. Because you can’t learn it. At best, you can instill some information in your short-term memory. It will get wiped out as soon as you’re done with your next test or whatever. True, there is some information that you ought to know, that you don’t presently feel drawn to. Like basic safety and health information. But beyond that, simply allow who-you-naturally-are to dictate your direction.

Similarly, parents, don’t force your children what they don’t want to know. And don’t blame teachers for being ineffective in teaching. It is your job to assess your children’s interests and learning styles and find appropriate opportunities. That said,be sure to let your children know that they will get as much out of anything as what they put into it — they can’t blame it on imperfect teachers or learning opportunities for their lack of gain. Nobody is teaching them anything. They have to teach themselves.

Once you know how this works, then you can go on to teach yourself anything. We are learning beings. Don’t limit yourself, don’t blame your teacher. You are the one holding the key that unlocks your potential.

PS I am adding this as there were a couple of people who misunderstood my point.

I was not saying that the best learning takes place only when you teach yourself, by yourself.

On the contrary, I very much believe in the impact of teachers, mentors, and coaches.

My point was to illustrate the proactive, self-directed nature of learning.  Even with the best teacher, if you don’t invest into or resonate with not only what but how teachings are delivered, it makes it almost impossible to gain anything from it.  But if you got the good/right one, then it’ll definitely make learning easier and more fun.

If you have a choice, by all means seek out those that suit your personality and learning style.  If you don’t, then invest in exploring what common grounds you may have with your teacher — no matter how bad or how incompatible he/she is.  It’s up to you to learn anything from anyone.  You are the one who is making the learning to occur.


    1. Hey Ajith,

      Well, along with someone to blame, you have also encountered your most potent teacher.

      I know you’re kidding, but really, don’t dwell on blame. This is an opportunity being unlocked. When you align yourself to your interests and your learning styles, you’ll amaze yourself with how much, how fast, how easily you learn.

      I’ll see if I can write on that, but really, the authority on this issue is my wife — she is an education fanatic, if there ever was one. 😉 I envy my kids, as they were born under an expert on setting up the right learning environment — one where little gets in the way of learning. I’m telling you, it’s really awesome. 🙂


  1. Ari, I didn’t get a thing out of this post. Who can I blame? 🙂 J/K. That’s an interesting thought and very true – at least for the most part. I think there are teachers who are so great that they can get most anybody to learn. However, Avani hit the nail on the head with her quote. I have seen it many times over.

    This part was a little liberating to me as I pondered on it: “Don’t fight, don’t force yourself to learn what you’re not interested in. It’s futile — a waste of time. Because you can’t learn it.”

    This idea of your post reminds me of a conversation that I had with my husband just a few days ago (I guess is resonated with me.). It’s actually something I’ve thought for a long time. We were talking about how the education in general is all messed up and they are teaching mostly what students will never use – especially in colleges. That’s not true for all professions, but many. It makes a lot more sense to me to teach practical things that people will actually use in life and in work – success principles and the particular things they need for whatever work they are going to do. I think most importantly people need to be taught how to be successful at anything they do (However, they do have to be open to it). Often times the rest will fall into place. Am I getting off topic here? Well, that was what resonated with me. 🙂

    Well, anyway, it is important to know how you lean and find teachers, etc., that help you learn accordingly.

    Great thoughts.

    Jennifer´s last blog post..Heroes of Healing: Ron Wilkins

    1. Jennifer,

      >I think there are teachers who are so great that they can get most anybody to learn.

      I don’t disagree with that at all. But this teacher must be exceptionally gifted in two ways: 1) of articulating what (s)he has to offer, so only those who resonate with it come to learn, and/or 2) have a handle on such a universal truth, and is able to convey it in such a fundamental way that it can reach and resonate with much greater percentage of the population than is normal.

      2) is one of the reasons I keep talking about how I’m too verbose. I’m still learning how to harness the power that lies within my words — I can sense that once the juvenile “look ma, look what I can do” Ari is finished, I’ll settle down and be able to articulate truth by simply stating just the core, and without really having to explain myself.

      And what you and your husband discussed about our education is something that weighs heavily on my mind — I feel that I have something I need to say about it, but so far I haven’t been able to articulate it in a way I feel comfortable saying in public. This piece was born out of that process — I just broke off a piece I could articulate.

      In any case, I totally agree with your conclusion and if you ever consider becoming parents, then I believe your kids will thank you for knowing that.


    1. No, it’s not me at all. It’s all you. Get it? A smart person can draw out profound truth even from not-so-smart teachers. Even truths that the teacher himself may not realize.

      About CommenLuv — Robin mentioned that this new version has some quarks in it relating to how we have to register at I haven’t looked into myself, though I will.


  2. Hi Ari – That’s true, isn’t it. “You have to teach yourself”. I agree, we like to read or listen to that which resonates with us. It’s no different than listening to the news that’s broadcast on different channels. If it’s biased in one direction, and we don’t agree, we switch channels.

    Personally, I love to learn. I often make mistakes in the process, but they just reinforce what not to do.

    Barbara Swafford´s last blog post..Biggest Misconceptions About Blogging

    1. Barbara,

      I think it’s a very empowering revelation. I said the same thing to Ajith, but it’s like we are a box with an opening on one side. We’re trying to put in information into our box — and the way to do it is to know which side our opening is. When you know, learning becomes really effortless. Try to force it from other sides, it becomes painful and stressful.

      Know why kids lose interest in studying? Because they don’t know where their openings are. And people don’t bother to find out. Only after the forced education ends, we remember that we liked learning, after all.


    1. Davina,

      Agreed. And knowing this puts a great emphasis on what you put into each learning process — and less on teachers. As I said to Jennifer, a master learner can draw great things, even from incompetent teachers. Of course, it helps to know who you are and how you learn, so you can put yourself in a learning environment that suits you — then learning is nothing but fun!


    1. Hi Betsy,

      Welcome to OBV! Well, children sure have minds of their own, don’t they? I stopped trying to coerce them into anything long ago — I just grin and bear it. Like last night, when they were jumping on our bed, singing “two little monkeys jumping on the bed, one feel off and….”



    1. Hi Sean,

      Well, I’m glad we realized that while our kids are still young. Saves a lot of gnashing of teeth later (I’m sure there’ll be plenty of that still, though). My wife asks my daughter everyday. “What do you want to learn today? Where do you want to go?” And there’s always an answer.


  3. What an insightful post Ari! it is so true. I think that most people expect that a book or a seminar will change their lives. Of course, it can happen but the main catalyst for change is YOU. We have to be willing to put into action what we learn and this is indeed a personal choice. No book can change a person if the person is not willing to change. In other words the magic is not in the books, or in the leader, the magic is in you.
    Knowing that we are the ultimate choosers is certainly powerful thing. Because when we know this, regardless of circumstance, we will choose how to react. So while we can attribute our successes or failures to other people or books, the praise or the blame ought to go to YOU!

    sharon´s last blog post..The Prosperity Mind Game-Ask and It Is Given

    1. Hi Sharon,

      Indeed, no book or seminar can change our lives — unless we choose to. But even before we get to the action part, we have to first receive the information, and let it affect us. And this is almost beyond our choice — a piece of information either strikes us or it doesn’t. How it’s being said has as much to do as what it’s being said. All the sudden, you “get” something, and then after that, that piece of information takes residence inside you. Other ones that don’t connect, you’ll have to spend a great deal of force trying to make it stay.

      Learning is driven by our own desire, and is executed based on who we are. The greatest lesson spoken in a foreign tongue will not resonate with us. It has to be said in a language we understand. Except none of us choose our native tongue. We can choose to acquire secondary languages, but our original one is given. So we just have to seek out messages that are said in the language we understand.


  4. It’s interesting that you are talking about personalities. I’ve just begun to be keen on this topic too, with my latest blog post on “How would You Cross the River”.

    I’d agree that we cannot place 100% responsibility for learning to the teachers for our kids. I don’t expect them to. Parents play a big role in pointing out the direction for our kids. The learning has to still come from the kids themselves.

    Evelyn Lim´s last blog post..How Would You Cross The River?

    1. Hi Evelyn,

      Nice to see you here! Thanks for your comment. Yes, I agree that parents pointing out the direction. Ideally it is done by discerning what the child is like, instead of the parents’ preconceived notion of what the child should be like. My wife and I believe that the ideal way to approach is in child-led learning, but with strong guidance — it’s not the same as simply letting them run free and pick whatever they want.


  5. Part of my business is doing leadership and diversity training, but I also do some motivational speaking from time to time. I’ve always said that there is no competition for work in what I do because if you put 10 of us in the front of a room of 100 and had us all say the same exact thing, each person in the room is going to gravitate to someone other than who everyone else gravitated towards, because some are ready to hear the message, but from one specific person. However, it doesn’t hurt us to hear the same message from many sources, because each source, in reality, will say it somewhat differently, and so you may get more than one bit of knowledge from more than one person, even if they’re essentially talking about the same thing.

    Wonderful post; thanks for sharing.

    Mitch´s last blog post..Uneasy Lies The Head,…

    1. Hi Mitch,

      Welcome to OBV! Glad to have you here.

      I very much respect how you view your profession. Back when my wife and I were looking for midwives to assist us with our births, we noticed a similar attitude among them. They knew that inherently who a woman chooses as her midwife is a personal choice and that the only thing they could do were to simply be themselves and explain their approaches honestly and accurately. It was not up to them to decide who choose to work with them, but there was certainly a need for all of them, as there are many pregnant women with a vast variety of needs.

      And that is also part of the reason why I chose to go ahead with this blog — there are many sites covering similar topics, but I thought that there were some things I could say in a way only I can say it, and some people would resonate with that. I’m happy to say that I was right!

      Thanks for your insight. I look forward to your next visit!


  6. Hi Ari, most definitely not. I wouldn’t allow my kids to choose whatever they want, without them going through a fair amount of thinking. If they decide that they want to attend a certain class, my bargain with them is that they must commit to it at least for a reasonable period. I find that they can easily give up once the learning for the new hobby or activity gets a little tougher. They still can pick what they like right at the start, of course; but I’d insist that they not be frivolous in their choices.

    Evelyn Lim | Attraction Mind Map´s last blog post..How Would You Cross The River?

    1. Hi Everlyn,

      You raise excellent points, and I am very much in agreement. Kids do need to experience the joy of breaking through growth pains. My father, unfortunately, was an example of a man who weren’t given that experience. So in his adult days, he went through many hobbies and interests, only to give up when he hit his first wall, but then afterward he was left wondering if he should have stuck with it, for he still desired what was beyond that wall. But he simply didn’t have the resources to endure the growth pain and break through.

      That said, and there is no simple answer to this — there are times when we try things, thinking that we are going to enjoy it, but it turns out we don’t. I started a computer business earlier in my life, which was a fiasco, because of that. I thought I would enjoy it, but I didn’t. I got out of it as fast as I could. So similarly, if my daughter tries something and if she and we parents all agree that what she’s trying is really not suiting her, then we will definitely allow her to pull out, and sooner the better.

      So I think the context is very much the key in these issues. Clearly, we can’t force one rule over all situations. I think we as parents should pay attention and remain in tune with our children (without getting too involved 😉 ) so that we can sense which of these scenarios are applicable in any given situations.


    1. Hey Jennifer,

      Well, thanks! I am uncomfortable with the word “teacher” but I don’t think it has to do with lack of confidence about the impact I may have. I feel like I’m still doing too much preaching and spoon-feeding and not enough asking questions and telling stories.

      I do appreciate your affirmation! I take it to my heart and strive to be even better. 🙂


  7. My fiancé has been teaching me how to ballroom dance. He likes to find out how a person is most used to learning things, and then teach them using other methods to expand their abilities to learn. It can be frustrating at first, but can also open your horizons and give you many more ways to learn things around you. Even things you never thought you could learn or do.

    ~ Kristi

    Kikolani – Poetry | Photography | Blogging Tips´s last blog post..The Blogging Process

    1. Hi Kristi,

      That sounds wonderful. Isn’t fun to learn in a way that really works for you? Your fiance sounds like a very smart and observing man.

      My wife does the same things with our kids. She used to teach and tutor and she is an education fanatic — she’s constantly reading, researching, exploring ways to teach kids. It truly is her passion. I envy my kids. 😉


  8. Ari,
    What you say sounds wonderful if it were only true. I have been a teacher now for 20 years. Yes, there are many things we can teach ourselves if we desire to learn. I have taught myself many things. Babies learn so much on their own. Being curious and seeking out information and understanding on your own is a wonderful thing. But somethings need a mentor, facilator, coach, or teacher for transfer of knowledge to happen. If you were not an experienced entrepreneur and you wanted to start, maybe a music business, you might take a class from a coach to help you think and solve problems in a way that your lack of experience would have not allowed you to do. Teachers, good ones, are not the ladies behind the counter at the local cafeteria. You don’t walk by their station and let them scoop up a nice helping of knowledge on your plate. Teachers are question posers and the question is not, “Serve you?” Their job is to guide you so you figure it out yourself. Gifted teachers are tour guides leading the students, through inquiry, to make discoveries, connections, or even develop more questions themselves. This is difficult to do on your own without training. Other people, because of their experience, can see things that an inexperienced student cannot. So the students are not the ones who are doing the teaching. They are doing the connecting. They are seeking understanding. They are thinking at a higher level through strategic questioning by their teacher.

    Should students be required to learn things they don’t want to learn. Absolutely. For one thing, many students would pass on learning things that are the foundations for other later learning. What if your child didn’t want to learn to read? Would you make her anyway? You bet. How may of us had toddlers that didn’t want to learn to use the potty? Well I’m thinking there comes a day when the partents don’t really care if their child doesn’t want to learn. They are learning. It might be that you make them want to learn by having them wipe their own poop off thier bottom, but you are still forcing them. Kids need to learn how to persevere through things that are not what they would choose. How often have we persevered though filling out our income tax forms? Always having choice is not real world. Kids need to learn to tolerate being uncomfortable, having to do some things they don’t want to do, learn things they don’t want to learn, persever, be bored. To allow them a pass everytime is setting them up to be dysfunctional adults.

    If your boss asked you to learn a new software for your job, can you say no thank you can keep your job?

    1. Hi Laurie,

      Thanks for honoring me with your honest opinion. I appreciate it. It takes courage to post a dissenting comment.

      But actually, I have absolutely nothing but complete agreement with your first paragraph. I re-read my post and I can see how you mistook my point to say teachers and coaches are irrelevant, ineffective or unnecessary. I accept that my writing could have been misleading.

      I didn’t mean to say that all learning takes place in self-teaching. What I meant to say was to lay the ultimate responsibility on students. Teachers offer us great opportunities, but students themselves have to take them up on it. No, I don’t disagree with you at all. Teachers, mentors, coaches and other educators serve great roles in our growth — all of us need them.

      >Teachers are question posers and the question is not, “Serve you?” Their job is to guide you so you figure it out yourself. Gifted teachers are tour guides leading the students, through inquiry, to make discoveries, connections, or even develop more questions themselves.

      Beautifully said! I very much agree that ideal teachers are guides in self-directed learning process. I tend to think that great teachers are the ones who ask more questions than answers.

      As for the second paragraph, I’ll return later with a response….


      1. Something else I thought about concerning motivating your kids to learn. It is HOW we praise them. Are we praising them because they are smart or because of the effort they exhibit?

        Research shows that kids who are praised because of how smart they are are less likely to take on challenges. With them, every challenge is a test of their intelligence and if they fail they are proving they weren’t as smart as they were praised for being. Some challenges are just too costly to take on. Failure will cost them their self esteem. These kids will shut down and not try. They would rather be labeled an underachiever than stupid.

        If the kids are praised because they put forth great effort, they see the connection between effort and success. With these kids, a challenge just calls for more effort. Their worth is not on the line. If they fail they can look at the situation and learn from it to increase their odds of meeting the challenge next time. These kids can do remarkable things do to their ability to risk for excellence.

        When thinking about education and success with kids, we adults can set them up to be in a safer environment to tackle the challenges of learning.

        1. Laurie,

          Wow, an excellent point! What you’re saying totally makes sense. My wife and I have always been leery of over-praising. It simply loses its potency.

          What you’re saying is that we need to reinforce positive behaviors, not positive results. Otherwise, kids will learn to play it safe, just to achieve the praise-able results. Totally the opposite of what we want to instill in them.

          Laurie, you ought to do a blog, based on your years of experience as a teacher. Your writing is concise and clear — perfect for a blog. I think many teachers and parents need to be know truths like this. (not to mention it’ll be a great online promotion for your business!) 😉


  9. Hello Ari,

    I like it when you said we should “remain in tune with our children”. It is precisely what I try to do. I try to tune into their likes, dislikes, behavioral patterns, motivations, etc.

    I also had the experience of studying something that was not truly my passion. Of course, I do not blame my parents. They do not know any better then. Most certainly, I would not hope for the same thing to happen to my kids.

    Core academic studies are no doubt important for they lay the groundwork for all forms of learning to develop. From there, I hope to encourage them in areas that best suit their interest. Learning, as you’ve correctly pointed out, then becomes self directed.


    Evelyn Lim´s last blog post..How Would You Cross The River?

    1. Hi Evelyn,

      Thanks for the follow-up.

      “Core academic studies are no doubt important for they lay the groundwork for all forms of learning to develop.”

      Indeed, there is some fundamental knowledge that we all must acquire, isn’t there? Well, I’ve been asked a very good question about what this fundamental may be — in the next post I’m going to invite everyone to voice their opinion on this. I’ll look forward to reading what you have to say.


  10. Hi Ari – This is a really good point – I guess we only take away what we really want to learn. I suppose that’s why folk say, when you’re ready your teacher will come.

    I love Kubler Ross’s books – she was and still is an inspiration to so many people by sharing what she learned through her work with the dying. I’m always referring back to her books. I suppose, as you say, perhaps I’m only learning the bits I want to each time.

    1. Hi Cath,

      Well, my intention was to shift the focus from teachers and materials (book, class, etc.) to the learner. Because much of the time teachers are blamed for effectiveness in teaching, for example — but I think some of it (thought not all) shouldn’t be directed to teachers. We can have the greatest teachers, but if we don’t put ourselves into it, or even if we did, if we don’t resonate with what’s being presented, it makes it very hard to learn.

      Just as I received the message about healing from Dr. Kubler-Ross, what we take away from any lessons is what we want to learn, whether we are conscious of it or not. It is a proactive thing. Go into a class with intention to learn and you will. Listen to the greatest presenter without caring and you won’t learn anything.

      We all make the learning happen. Teachers are our aides. Not the other way around.


    1. Tom,

      No, I wasn’t saying that literally teaching yourself is the best way to go. As I was saying to Cath, I was trying to point out the proactive nature of learning. You can be taught by the greatest teacher, but if you don’t go into it with the intention to learn, you won’t gain anything. Serious learners, of course, seek out great learning opportunities and environments. Learning is from within, and teachers and coaches are our aides.

      You are the second person who mistook my message, so that means that my writing didn’t come across correctly. I may have to go back and make an addendum. 🙁


  11. Ari–I have to tell you again how much I love this blog–and how important I feel it is.

    You know, I am a teacher–I teach university students and when I first started teaching, I thought I should be the ‘sage on the stage’ and *teach* my students the knowledge they needed. Now, I realize that learning is an interactive process–and the role of the teacher is to faciliate learning. You are so right–learning is proactive and self-directed; this maximizes the potential to learn to the fullest.

    Thank you for this post–


    Melinda´s last blog post..The Hell of Heroin Addiction

    1. Hi Melinda,

      Wow, thanks for your kind words — coming from someone like you, it means much to me.

      Yes, when you’re teaching, isn’t it easy to fall into the trap of “Hey, I’m going to TEACH them great things today!” thinking that you’re the one who holds the switch to turn the learning “on” — but in reality, everyone gets out what they will out of what you’re presenting. It’s a balancing act, of course, but hopefully teaching includes a bit of meeting them where students are, and guiding them from there.


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  13. Ari,

    I think it all goes back to the existential principle of choice and responsibility. We choose what we pay attention to, and what we then do with it is our responsibility.

    I’m also firmly of the persuasion that ‘when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.’ The universe is very obliging to us that way. 🙂

    Good post!


    Grace´s last blog post..The 5 minute shift that saves brain cells

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