Most people think practice is how you get good at something, a means to an end if you will. Dave Fearon thinks the practice itself, not the arrival spot, is the point.
Ferron, a retired college professor and administrator, has spent most of his retirement years spreading this message. “This is what happens to one who is 73 when he retires and has a bout with cancer,” says Fearon, who is now 80. “You either go into a funk and stay there and or discover something you want to be with a big emphasis on ‘be next.’ I discovered that I wanted to continue to teach in a new way with the new digital media so I created a podcast with a colleague and helped him finish the book.”
The e-book is called On Practice As a Way of Being, and the podcast is called the Practice? Podcast. The book was a way for Fearon to honor the work of his long-time friend and colleague Peter Vaill by collaborating with him to make his revolutionary thoughts about the endgame of what we do available to the public. The book is designed to help the reader explore their own idea of what practice means and how it relates to their life, no matter what phase they are in. While it has been used by leaders and executives worldwide to better understand how to lead, considering the idea of practice, say the authors, actually relates to everything in our lives, from golf to sailing to relationships.
Fearon’s interest was twofold: “I wanted to find the pleasure of teaching in this new [online] way and secondly to fulfill the deep wish of a former teacher of mine, Peter Vaill, to keep his legacy alive long after he died.”
Fearon explains a bit about how reconsidering practice can help people change and better understand their lives: “Practice is crucial to well being and mental health,” he says, noting the book and podcast are meant for more than executives and managers seeking to become more effective. “I have another mission to find people who can’t make that choice [to change] for one reason or another. I know the difference. I made it myself. I was down and almost out. I had retired and lost my status and all the perks that go with being a professor. I tried golf but I sucked at it.”
The pandemic has brought a “tremendous feeling of isolation and that people don’t care,” Fearon continues. “In that kind of context how can someone make the choice to elevate themselves to a higher level of accomplishment?” He sees a lot of people responding to this challenging environment by just quitting and/or perhaps using prescriptions to overcome those feelings.
Instead Fearon hopes to help people consider the moments rather than the outcomes. “Meeting the situations is where your practice takes you,” he says. “It’s not just about the results. Whatever situation you find yourself in, if you figure it out — reach out to others, read, do whatever you can— once you break through, you’ll grow. You’ll know it when it happens. You know it in your bones that you made it happen yourself by virtue of what you did. You get better by it.”
In some ways, these patterns of self-denial are a form of self-stigmatization, Fearon says.
“If people are blocked from making choices to excel at what they love to do, or if they talk themselves out of it, they miss the learning and growth that practice delivers fresh daily.”
He witnessed this behavior regularly during his decades in the classroom. “All those years I taught mostly undergrads, I saw kids who were uncertain; perhaps they hadn’t been encouraged in high school. They reached 17-20 years of age and sort of said, ‘I’m not sure why I’m here. I’m not sure I’m good enough to be an accountant or whatever.’ I saw that a lot.” As Fearon stepped in and offered students another scenario, a strategy in which they learned they had control through their actions rather than being focused solely on results, he began to see changes in their feelings about where they were and about themselves.
“In these four years of practice about practice, I have met people all over the world through Zoom, mostly people who didn’t know they had all that much importance in the world,” he says of his 206-plus podcast episodes. “ But when I talk to them, it lifts them up.”
Fearon says his own insecurities about thinking about practice as an end in itself (albeit a constantly evolving one) rather than a means to an end helps fuel his empathy when working with others. When Vaill died in 2020, Fearon says, “I could have been self-stigmatized at that moment. Who was I to carry on the work of one of the most brilliant thinkers in my field? Peter chose me from among hundreds of his former doctoral students who had far more research acumen and networks. So, I kept on. Thank God!”
Indeed, like the methodology itself, Fearon and his mentor’s book will never be done. Fearon constantly adds videos and episodes of the podcast to the book. “It’s a book to which I can continually attach content,” he says. “I don’t think you can find that kind of book anywhere except online. I wanted to be part of the future and I think the future is moving away from shelves to phones.”
Want to know more? Here are some links.
The podcast: https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/dsfearonsr58172
The book: https:/www.mylibrary.world/practice