I am so excited, because Jennifer Louden, author of The Woman’s Comfort Book, The Woman’s Retreat Book, and The Comfort Queen’s Guide to Life—and co-creator/teacher of the fabulous TeachNow program—is talking with us about teaching and her creative process. There’s a lot of good stuff here, so without further ado, here’s Jen!
Hi, Jen! Thanks so much for joining us. Tell us a little about TeachNow and how it’s evolved over the years.
I created TeachNow, with my friend Michele Lisenbury Christensen, because I had literally been called to teach—as in the phone rang—when my first book, The Woman’s Comfort Book, was published in 1992. The book hit such a cord with women that hospitals, retreat centers, and adult education centers wanted me to come teach. And I was also wanting to teach because I was quickly learning women loved the idea of self-care but were struggling to actually do it. (Isn’t that true for most things!)
But the problem was, I was young—28!—and I had no idea how to teach. I felt like a fraud, no matter how good the response would be from people. I wanted to quit almost every time I spoke or taught. I’d walk away thinking, “I can’t do this!” That honestly didn’t change much for 20 years until I heard a dear friend, a truly master spiritual teacher, tell me his similar story. He didn’t think he was ineffective but he wasn’t fully stepping into his brilliance as a teacher and I could not believe it. But I also saw how we all get in our own ways. In that moment, I said “I want to support teachers.” And TeachNow started.
We’ve had over 600 students go through the program now. We’ve tweaked something—or a lot of somethings—each time. Like this time, we are taking the 45 Master Teacher Interviews—intimate conversations with people like Natalie Goldberg, Parker Palmer, and Mark Nepo that augment the course—and putting them into an index so you can search by what you want to hear more about. Like “difficult students” or “creating content.” So that’s exciting.
Those interviews are already a fabulous resource, and that index will make them even better! Tell me about an important teacher/mentor, and how s/he helped you.
I had an 9th grade English teacher, Mrs. Ray, sunbaked woman, hard as a tack. I was walking behind her one day to her office and she said, very casually, over her shoulder, “You could be a writer.” Okay, I thought, I will be. Just like that.
Looking back, I can see how needy I was as a kid and how much I needed to be seen. My parents loved me so much but they did not know how to see me and support me as the creative whirlwind drama queen I was.
Teachers have a lot of power!
They sure do—that’s a great story! What’s been the biggest surprise, either for yourself, your students, or both, in the TeachNow experience?
That sharing my imperfections and struggles as a teacher has been so useful. We do a lot of “pulling back the curtain” on how we are trying to teach, pointing out our choices, and pointing out when things don’t work out so well. We also share our struggles to teach well—through our regular newsletter and in the course. This has been huge for students. It has helped people feel less alone and more willing to dare to make their own mistakes, because they see people aren’t going to hate them and they aren’t going to keel over from fright and shame. They also see that teaching is hard for everybody! (click to tweet this)
What’s your favorite TeachNow success story?
This one from Steven Sparling:
“I am a Canadian actor/singer based in the UK. I started teaching singing at a music conservatory two years ago. I knew that I knew how to sing, I just didn’t have any faith that I knew how to teach it to someone else.
“The first year was filled with so much agony as I was constantly berating myself for failing as a teacher (despite the fact that my students seemed to love my lessons and were getting better, I could only see how I was falling short of my own expectations of how a teacher ‘should’ be).
“In my second year of teaching I came across Teach Now. I had been aware of it previously and questioned if it could live up to promises, so I didn’t buy it at first.
“Finally, I felt that I really needed something or I was going to quit teaching, so I bought your programme. Right away, the material started to have an impact on me. I started to accept my ‘gap’ between where I was and where I thought I should be. I started to allow the teaching to happen rather than trying to wrestle some sort of lesson to the ground.
“I met my students face to face and allowed them to see me complete with my strengths and weaknesses. I let them see me fail and it felt good! I started to relax more and enjoy my teaching more.
“And the students seemed to enjoy it more as well.
“The combination of Jen & Michele and their ability to laugh at their own failings (a major gift) coupled with the fantastic interviews with a whole variety of different teachers, means that TeachNow is resource which you can dip in and out of over an extended period of time and still come away with something valuable every time.
“I have a joy in my teaching now which was absent before and that’s thanks to TeachNow. Thanks for a great, game-changing course.”
I love this because he stopped getting in his own way, and that allowed him to grow and thrive. Our self-criticism is so often the biggest block to improvement!
It is—and that’s true in every area of life. What other projects are you currently working on?
I’m getting married in August to my sweetheart. So that is a lovely project I’m enjoying. I’m working on a super secret project with two other women, that if it works, could be an entire newly avenue for me—more corporate and very subversive at the same time. I’m still playing with writing fiction and coaching a few select clients, leading a couple of retreats—one still has openings in October—and taking care of my mom who has Alzheimer’s. And loving life more and more every day.
That’s quite a list! What’s your creative process like? How do you keep going when you feel blocked?
My creative process is very humbling. My first drafts are terrible. I have learned the most important thing is to let that be okay, to write fast and dirty—to keep going! To not believe the voice that says, “This will never work.” And to let it be okay that I’m a slow writer.
Not believing that voice is often the hardest part. One of my goals for this year is to create more joy in my life and the lives of those around me. Do you have any favorite ways of creating joy?
By accepting what is. In the car with mom yesterday, she was in a down mood, and I started to want to change that, to be bummed I had to take her to another doctor appointment. And then I just let it be okay. And literally a moment later we are laughing about something silly. I still don’t want to be doing what I’m doing—but I am. So acceptance really helps me.
I don’t think we create joy but that it is always waiting for us to open to it through softness and awareness and compassion. I did a little video about that right here.
I love that video! How do you take care of yourself and celebrate your successes?
I am trying, and still often failing, to pace myself, to not create periods of time where all I do is work (with a little exercise and meditation thrown in), and then collapse at the end of the day. This is my biggest struggle—to find a softer more sustainable dance with my work that feels more enjoyable more of the time. Being with that these days!
I celebrate my successes by taking them in, deep into my heart, and bowing to them. Not thinking “This is mine, I did this!” because that gets very clinging for me which makes it harder to take in. But more my attitude is wonder, “Wow, isn’t this amazing. How cool to be part of this. I stand in awe.”
Thanks for having to me to your internet home, Nancy. I hope these bits and pieces are of use to your readers. Bowing in awe.
Thanks for coming and sharing with us, Jen. I am bowing right back!
Best-selling author of six books and teacher Jennifer Louden co-created TeachNow to empower people who need more confidence, more income, and more power in their teaching—no matter the subject. The course opens for new students April 2nd and in there is a free sample class on April 4th. Details here + a great library to help you learn immediately how teaching can help you and your business thrive.
(NB: Links are affiliate links, so I will make a small commission through them.)