Why we’re always learning

When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”

The author of this saying is lost to the mists of time, although it’s routinely attributed to The Buddha, the Chinese text The Confucian Analects, The Theosophics, or even Tao Te Ching (in a longer form): “when the student is ready the teacher will appear. When the student is truly ready, the teacher will disappear.

Here’s a contemporary riff on it by a Tibetan teacher“You don’t need to go looking for the teacher. As soon as you’re ready, the teacher will look for you.” No matter its source, it’s still useful and relevant. I was reminded of it on a damp spring morning this week. 


Charlotte to client: “You can’t do everything at once. There are only so many slices in a cake.

Client: “New week, new cake.”

Charlotte: I make a quizzical look, then remember we’re on the phone, “Oh?”

Client: “There’s more cake next week.”

Charlotte: “Oh, you mean you can start again next week? There’s more time?”

Client: “No, just there’s more cake.”


I learn something new. Freud once said “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” Life is sometimes simpler than I make it out to be. There isn’t always deep meaning lurking under the carpet or hiding in the cupboard. Things can be just as we see them. Together the client and I divert off into the merits of cake. 

Best: His is Black Forest Gateaux “if it’s a good one.”  Mine is Coffee and Walnut.

Most surprising: The client’s is marble cake “you never know what you’ll find inside.” I’m flummoxed by this category and don’t know what to say. I’ve never thought of a cake as “surprising” unless someone jumps out of a large one playing the trumpet. This hasn’t happened to me yet. There is still time. 

Worst: His least favourite cake is Lemon Drizzle. “When I was a kid I was allowed to eat an entire one (out of boredom) at my grandmother’s house.” He still bears the scars. My least favourite cake is Black Forest Gateaux. Way too much Kirsch, cherries and cream.

Now that’s interesting, isn’t it? His favourite, my least favourite. Life would be boring if we all enjoyed the same things. We laugh and carry on. When I reflect back afterwards, I realise the teacher has searched me out and found me. Next day another coaching session. 


Client: “Well you’re red and white.”

Charlotte: “Oh?” 

Client: “I have synaesthesia. I see words and names in colourYour name comes out as red and white – strawberries and cream.”

Charlotte: “Ah, what’s that like for you?”

Client: “Well sometimes it’s dangerous. For example, never leave me in charge of a boat.”

Charlotte: “Oh?” 

Client: “Port means left in sailing and port buoys are red. Starboard means right and starboard buoys are green.”

Charlotte: “Where’s the risk?”

Client: “For me the word “port” is always green and “starboard” is always redSo, I’m hopeless at navigation.”

Charlotte: “OK, just making a note here. Never get into a boat that you’re skippering.”


Another day, another conversation. I’m chatting to Amanda, a coach from the USA. After my long-winded explanation of how someone’s behaviour is frustrating me, she says, “sometimes we get the people we need. Maybe they are there so you can learn something about yourself?” Another teacher has looked me up in the Yellow Pages and called me on speed dial.  

Blimey. I’m exhausted. Does this lifelong learning thing never stop?

It strikes me that the older we get, the more we realise how little we know. We inch up the mountain called Life, occasionally stopping to take breath, patting ourselves on the back about how far we’ve come. And yet, the further we walk up, the wider the vista below. Someone recently shared this with me, which struck a chord:

“Humility is not seeing yourself as small; it’s seeing life as huge.” George Pransky

Admitting how little we know isn’t self-critical. Being humble isn’t beating ourselves up. It’s simply realising the view got bigger. I believe the point is not to have more answers, it’s to have more questions. 

Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is to not stop questioning.”   Albert Einstein

If we keep asking questions, then our teachers will appear. 


This is part of a series called Spoon by Spoon — a project I’ve run interviewing 100 people going through career, relationship and wider life changes. If you’re looking for support with your own career or life change find out more here.

Photo copyright of Charlotte Sheridan

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