Benjamin Zander teaches at the New England Conservatory of Music.
Zander relates a story that as a teacher, he notices again and again that extraordinary students hold themselves back because they are so anxious about competition and about their grades. They are always listening to that inner voice saying “you aren’t good enough”, “others are better than you”, etc.
He tells us about how he assigns grades in his class (I’m paraphrasing from the video):
“In the first class, I give each student in the class an A, with one condition (and a precondition is they have to come to class…): they have to write a letter in the first 2 weeks of the year, dated the end of class, the letter begins with these words: “Dear Mr. Zander, I got my A because …” They have to write me a letter describing who they will have become by the following May to reflect this extraordinary grade. I tell them to fall passionately in love with the person they will become in the letter. They write about who they could be, who they would be, if only that voice would stop telling them that they can’t achieve greatness. When I come into class, the person I teach is the person they have described in their letter.
You see, I only take A students.“
On a grander scale, Zander describes his view on education and learning. I think this can easily be applied not only to the creative arts (he teaches music performance) but to the sciences as well. After all, doing science also requires extremely creative work.
Again, paraphrasing from the video:
“One world is a world of a downward spiral, the world of complaint, “it’s too difficult”, “it can’t be done”, “the resources aren’t there”, “other people are doing better”, “it’s hopeless” – it’s a fixed reality – everything is fixed – the resources are fixed – so of course there is competition, domination, control, hierarchy, survival, etc. This is a world centered around wealth, fame and power. There are a limited number of people who are interested in hearing about only a limited number of ideas.
The other is a world of abundance – radiating possibility – the arrows go off in all directions – it’s a place of possibility. There are an infinite number of people who are interested in an infinite number of ideas.“
Zander refers to these two worlds as two Conversations. He argues that these two worlds are not statements about circumstances, about the current state of affairs, but rather are reflections of Attitude.
You get to choose what world you live in, what attitude you bring to your work.