Training your competition
Back when I was active in martial arts, I used to teach a class or two a week for my instructor. He (and I) knew that one of the best ways to get better at a skill is to try to teach it. This is a humbling process because it points out all the things you don’t know about the skill you’re trying to pass along. It pushes you to dig deeper into the knowledge that you’re trying to share.
One day, my instructor was watching while I showed a student how to do a double roundhouse kick, which is a kick that you use to hit two different targets in one strike, one right after the other. A few minutes later during sparring practice the student used this technique to sneak past my guard and score a point.
Afterwards, my instructor laughed and said, “That’s what we’re doing, we’re training our competition. Now you have to get better so he can’t get past your guard again.”
I loved that framing and I apply it to just about everything I do. I teach students how to be developmental editors even though I am a developmental editor and it is perfectly possible that they will be vying for the same projects I am. And I’ve lost count of the number of students I’ve had in my developmental editing classes who’ve gone on to teach developmental editing themselves.
Sometimes people wonder why on earth I would do that, teach people how to steal work from me when I could easily just keep all my knowledge to myself.
But here’s the thing. The better my students get at being editors, the better I get at being an editor. I have never once taught a class where I haven’t learned something about editing or writing. And to stay ahead of the competition, I have to constantly explore what I know about fiction and editing, refine my skills, fine-tune my methodology, find different ways to teach what I know.
All of that is good! It’s what I find so rewarding about my work. I would not enjoy teaching Beginning Developmental Editing for the fiftieth time if nothing about the subject matter and how I teach it ever changed.
But not everyone feels this way. Some people prefer to withhold knowledge. They figure it was hard for them to attain it and why should they help their competition? Even some well-respected grand masters have kept some of their methods secret from their students. Think of all the knowledge lost that way. For these people, life is a zero-sum game with winners and losers. But this is a very stagnant philosophy to me. How can you possibly learn and grow yourself if you don’t help others learn and grow?
If you want your life and your career to be on autopilot, then of course training your competition is not going to make sense to you. It’s going to feel like a threat to your very existence. You’ll be fighting to keep people out. But it doesn’t have to be that way. I take it as an invitation. By inviting people in, by actually training my own competition, I learn how to become even better at the work.
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