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What is Holding You Back?

Posted on 01/12/10 20 Comments

You have heard the cliches like; you must risk much to gain much. It is so true especially when you are a student. This comes up now because today I start the first of 12 days teaching in Florida. I want so much for each student at these camps to get the most out of their learning experience. Truthfully though, that doesn’t always happen.

One of the biggest reasons people rarely get the best education out of a working seminar is that they are are afraid to fail in front of someone they respect (an instructor) or their peers (friends) in the group. As writer Ambrose Redmoon said best “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important that fear.”

In this case, what needs to be more important than your fear is the opportunity to learn. However too often what happens if someone struggles with a handling sequence is that they decides to sit the next one out, often feeling depressed or inadequate. Or if it is a dog training seminar, each time I walk by to take a peak at what they are doing they suddenly decide to start a marathon of tugging with their puppy so I don’t get a chance to see them train.

I know it can be scary to put yourself out there, risking potential humiliation. But as the Robert F. Kennedy said “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” That is why I believe that pride, the fear of failure and the need for certainty create the formula for someone aspiring to no more than mediocrity. I know that can’t be true or else why come to a workshop in the first place?

Everyone wants to be the “star” in class but that ego really does hold you back from reaching your potential. It is your struggles that give way to any potential brilliance. It is learning from a place of weakness. It is allowing your teacher to see yours and your dog’s imperfections that gives you the opportunity to learn how to improve. Laugh at your struggles because it is through those struggles that the seeds of greatness are sown.

Sure some instructors (perhaps even me in the past) may have appeared to take just a little too much joy in pointing out someone’s lack of skill. As a student it is crucial to not allow yourself to get emotional here, regardless of how much the words may sting.

I realize as an instructor, that the greatest way to inspire change in a student is to reinforce that which is good. Regardless there are times when the messages comes across in a way that the student’s pride doesn’t want to be fed. . Please don’t let that pride steal away even one opportunity for your advancement. Take the message, discard any ill emotions you may associate with the delivery, and make the necessary adjustments to be brilliant. Recognize every one should be entitled to an off day. Perhaps your instructor, that came off as a bit sharp ,was just having theirs.

Make a joke (to yourself, inside) of any perceived harshness you think this teacher was showing, pick yourself up, press on and grab a hold of every ounce of information that may be available to you at that moment. You paid for it, you deserve it and your dog deserves all the help you can gather for him.

Think about what you gave up to be at that clinic. Let alone the financial investment of the cost of the seminar, the travel costs to be there, the hotel, meals. But think about the time off work, the time away from your family or other productive things you could be doing. Make a decision to get the most out of ever educational opportunity by not being afraid to fail. It doesn’t matter that you may be an instructor yourself or that your own students may be watching. Take your lumps, learn from every opportunity and by all means let us see you and your dog at your worst. That is the only way anyone can help you to become your best on a consistent basis.

So my question to all of you is; what is holding you back from becoming the best that you can be? Please don’t let it be a little thing like pride or humility.

I will leave you with a few quotes.

There is only on thing more painful than learning from experience and that is not learning from experience. 
Archibald Mcleish

Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least. 

No one ever won a chess game by betting on each move. Sometimes you have to move backward to get a step forward. ~Amar Gopal Bose

Failure is the tuition you pay for success. ~Walter Brunell

My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure. ~Abraham Lincoln

Don’t fear failure so much that you refuse to try new things. The saddest summary of a life contains three descriptions: could have, might have, and should have. ~Louis Boone

If there exists no possibility of failure, then victory is meaningless. ~Robert H. Schuller

Humility, that low, sweet root, From which all heavenly virtues shoot.~ Thomas Moore

It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed. ~Theodore Roosevelt

Today I am grateful to be teaching in balmy Florida. Okay, as you can tell by this picture taken ringside at the trial here is southCanadians head south for a Florida agility trial. Florida on the weekend, it actually isn’t too balmy.  But we all know you have to have suffered a position of loss to best appreciate the sweet season of success. The forecast is for great warmth later this week. Bring it on!


  1. Deborah says:
    Friday, July 30, 2010 at 10:47pm

    I know it has been months since you wrote this post, but “Thank You.” After 15 years of teaching agility (and many more obiedience), I am started taking my first ever agility classes a student last week. Having been introduced as an instructor in another program I felt a little on stage and needing to do everything perfect. You helped to remind me one of the reasons I am taking the class, and not just, as a friend put it, “home schooling.” I signed up for the class not only to give my 2-year-old the expereince of learning around other dogs, but because I know I have a lot to learn about training. So I will go to class this week less concerned about being perfect, and concentrate instead on soaking up every bit of learning.


  2. Martine says:
    Wednesday, March 24, 2010 at 4:01pm

    I was glad to read this post again and it’s provided me with a lifeline to really start looking at things in a more healthy way. Lately, I have only heard the “negatives” in my head, in critique, other people’s observations, etc. I am harder on me than anyone else could possibly be… I need to let myself off the hook and TRY AGAIN. I have a 10 month old Border Collie that I adore; she is amazing 🙂 I have the best mentors and friends helping me, but sometimes I have a hard time feeling like I am doing anything right. I am really going to have to adopt having more of a sense of humor about things and be grateful for failing and take it as an opportunity to learn and surge ahead. When you watch “THE BEST” teams, it’s awe-inspiring, but defeating at times for me wondering how I could EVER have a run like that… I guess I have poor visualization skills when it comes to agility. My mental picture needs tweaking. I needed something to press “RESET” on my confidence button and this gives me a starting point and some good tools. Thank you for reminding the student in me how to absorb the lesson without taking everything personally 🙂


  3. Beth says:
    Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 12:33am

    I sooo love this picture!! It was very cold and wet that weekend but we had a great time anyways! It was so nice to see friends you haven’t seen in a while inspite the weather.


  4. Jenny Yasi says:
    Wednesday, January 13, 2010 at 11:13pm

    I do a seminar because I want to learn, and I learn at my speed, my dogs learn at their speed. I love how we break things into small manageable increments for the dogs, but things haven’t always been broken into small progressively increasing increments for me! Life is like that, sometimes I am way over my head in a situation, whether it’s a real life situation, or a dog training/game situation, like when I was training my dog and suddenly a loose horse came galloping through! Or when I was in labor and I couldn’t get off the island where I live!

    I think we’ve all been wounded, maybe some more than others, in learning situations. I really loved how when I was at a chicken training camp with Terry Ryan recently, my hand started shaking for some strange reason when I went to deliver reinforcement to the chicken (performance anxiety I guess! It was weird), and Terry let me off the hook, took the pressure off me. I felt like I was teetering there for some reason, I was feeling social pressure, sometimes groups of trainers can be pretty catty and competitive and not all that encouraging, I was feeling like people around me wanted me to fail, but my worries evaporated as Terry treated me with the same consideration that I try to have when I train my dog. She made it easier for me to succeed.

    It’s supposed to fun. Agility isn’t my career. I have a very full life and agility is a wonderful part of it, and I want to get better, I want to become a better trainer and agility is my key to growing as a trainer, but I don’t want to give up my boat. I’m not going to give up gardening or freestyle or training the dogs I have to get more competitive dogs. The “best that I can be” probably isn’t an ace agility competitor, I hope. The best I can be is probably a kind person, a good neighbor, a strong link in a chain of humanity. I hope wherever I train that it’s okay for me to be in process, because I am where I am, and my behavior is part of this whole tidal wave of behavior that has brought me to where I happen to be.


  5. Michaele Upshur says:
    Wednesday, January 13, 2010 at 11:13pm

    Im at The Vero Beach Camp as we speak and I am too new to even begin to know what failure is unless it is all the money I owe Susan for getting there too late. BUT I am leaving with the understanding of what a pivot push through front cross is and for this newbee…. THAT IS SUCCESS!!


  6. lynne brubaker says:
    Wednesday, January 13, 2010 at 11:00pm

    Blimey…. you guys look fa fa fa fa freezing!!!! I am willing warmth to be present by Jan 23rd, in time for the little Tin Can’s arrival.


  7. Tori says:
    Wednesday, January 13, 2010 at 6:15pm

    I for one will never complain about the Florida heat again.
    Okay, that’s a lie. But that’s what I *should* be taking from this weekend 😉


  8. Lysa says:
    Wednesday, January 13, 2010 at 12:32pm

    The timing of this post is right on for me… been feeling a little like a failure for my dog lately… time to put the ego back in the box and get back to fun learning with my buddy


  9. mtrebino says:
    Wednesday, January 13, 2010 at 12:08am

    Boy did you hit the nail on the head with that one..If I do a seminar it is because I really admire the person giving it and want to do well in there eyes…I have been at seminars where I was in the wrong group..dog not experienced enough etc..but the really good instructors will always find something good in the person and just one time is all it takes to pull that person up..I remember being at a seminar of a person I really admired because she ran bearded collies and I ran and OES..I figured a beardie was as close as I would get to an OES..I waited 3 days for a little tidbit…yeah I know I should have sucked it up but that is not human nature..I have always gotten just what I needed at your camps..a mixture of kicks in the rear and an atta girl or two..I have never left feeling I did not get my moneys worth.. I am seeing that in your videos as well.. Gosh some of the stuff out there is just bad but all your videos are top notch..


  10. George says:
    Tuesday, January 12, 2010 at 6:45pm

    We are quite new at agility. Last May our instructor introduced us to Snooker and I made every mistake possible in that session. The next weekend was our first trial with Snooker and we Qed in our first two starter snooker runs.


  11. Misa says:
    Tuesday, January 12, 2010 at 2:18pm

    I know that when I fail @ Say Yes your helpful foot in my you-know-what will be right there, helping me to get off the ground! 😉 Having a sense of humor about it helps me to learn from the experience. Plus, I was raised by drag queens and therefore I’m no stranger to the educational benefits of sarcasm.
    Whenever I think of something that ‘isn’t working’ and therefore holding me back in Agility (or life) my body feels different. I get physically tired, and my mind gets preoccupied with something, ANYthing that will take away my focus on the problem. It was important for me to recognize that my own avoidance system needed to be acknowledged….and then I could move on to address the problem. Today, that’s having my dog on my left side. What a weird block to have! At least it’s specific.
    My mantra : “My comfort zone is all around me.”


  12. Deb D says:
    Tuesday, January 12, 2010 at 1:47pm

    I spent the first day of puppy camp being intimidated by my lack of experience compared to other campers (even though I knew this would be the case) and having a non tugging dog. I sat myself down that night and told myself it just didn’t matter – I was there to build the relationship with my dog. Once I got over myself I got much more out of the experience (although I still feel sorry for my partner because my note taking could have been better). I don’t know if we (okay “I”) will ever be ready to compete but for me it was a step out of my comfort zone. I can’t say I enjoyed falling flat on my face (literally) but the world didn’t come to an end either and I certainly benefitted from the whole camp experience.


  13. Andrea says:
    Tuesday, January 12, 2010 at 1:26pm

    It’s seems like such an obvious concept that in order to get the best most accurate input on how to improve you gotta show what you’ve currently got and what you currently do, even if it is full of holes.

    My most recent failure at a Say Yes camp was with weave poles I was so proud of myself for having worked on my dog actually staying in the poles with me moving. One of the exercises had you powering forward and trusting your dog to get the entry well of course my dog did not even attempt to bend back to weave but just ran straight through. I could have tried to babysit the entry but what I learned by really doing the exercise the way it was meant to be done was that my wonderful red border collie has shaped me not to move until she is actually in the poles. Wake up call for the momma who thought she was done with the border collie shaping her.

    So I agree if you’re going to get your money’s worth there’s no point hiding anything, and in the end Susan always knows anyway LOL


  14. Loretta says:
    Tuesday, January 12, 2010 at 12:42pm

    I LOVE this post! On of your best in my humble opinion! I like failing at seminars–I learn so much more that way.


  15. Michelle says:
    Tuesday, January 12, 2010 at 12:41pm

    Timely Post. My New Year’s resolution is to get out of my comfort zone, take some risks and not be so afraid of failing.It’s very hard to change the way you do things. I’m going to print this and hang it on my fridge so I have a daily reminder that this is a good thing…really!


  16. Kathy says:
    Tuesday, January 12, 2010 at 11:25am

    Oh Failure in from of Susan Garrett-I know it well and not only survived, I learned training lessons I could NOT have learned any other way! It took a lot of guts on my part to perservere but I did and gained tons of confidence in myself and worked through some pretty big problems-great post!


  17. Michael Gooch says:
    Tuesday, January 12, 2010 at 10:45am

    Comfort Zones are just so limiting!


  18. Andrea says:
    Tuesday, January 12, 2010 at 10:04am

    This reminds me of puppy camp – when our brand new 11 week old puppy had zero interest in us and a billion percent interest in everything else. I was petrified to be the “loose puppy” person! Being that person (a couple of times) really had the value of relationship hit home. It was so embarrassing and I’m not sure if I would have learned that lesson without it.

    I still tell myself that I’d rather be the superstar. If I really think about it though, any time I’m in a seminar or event where we’re clearly the best there, I’m disappointed. Just suck it up and fall on my face is the way to go it seems.


  19. Laura says:
    Tuesday, January 12, 2010 at 9:15am

    I have failed in front of Susan Garrett and lived to tell the tale! I can attest that once you do it, you realize it isn’t the end of the world and in fact it’s the beginning of a better one for you and your dog.


  20. Sydney says:
    Tuesday, January 12, 2010 at 7:27am

    Susan, I remember well my “time out” in WA. I wasn’t watching/listening when you repeatedly told those in front of me to hug the wing. I had been warming up my dog on the sideline -t that was no excuse – I should ALSO have been paying attention to you. You made several of us wait until the end to repeat the box. The time out was effective! I warmed up within earshot afterwards.

    The number one reason I go to your seminars is to be told what I am doing wrong and how to fix it. When are you coming back to the West Coast?


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