“You—Must—Teach!” he said, decidedly and emphatically. This professor of Performance Studies wasn’t proselytizing to a group of graduate students; he was talking to little ol’ me on the lunch line in the cafeteria of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. I respected him enormously and perceived him to be uncannily earnest, kind and deeply committed to making a difference in the world. He prefaced his uncharacteristic proclamation with: “Naomi, what I’m about to say is important, so listen carefully.” Um, Okay … I was immediately concerned that he was going to tell me I should consider another field, and also amazed that he regarded me at all since I’d already accepted my subordinate status as a Masters student among dedicated Doctoral students in his writing seminar. I was so taken aback by the statement’s introduction, that I never asked him why he thought I must teach. His conviction in that moment left its mark on me, and I’ve been in pursuit of his meaning ever since.

What followed was a happy trajectory combing my passion for personal growth and my affinity for the arts. I started out as a grant-writer for an avant-garde theater director and became the Director of Development and Planning for Dance Theater Workshop. I wrote a lot of grants for artists, I wrote my own performance pieces, I performed with friends, and I invested in the success of the artistic staff that worked for me. I became aware that I had a talent for telling other people’s stories and for coaching people to greater clarity and performance in general. Still, I didn’t think I should teach. It took more time and more sole searching to discover what would feel like the next best fit for me. Fast forward a few chapters of personal and professional milestones—which included certifications, getting married, and having two insanely adorable children, writing creatively on the side, and processing my father’s death almost four years ago—and I’ve finally come full circle. “You—Must—Teach.”

Often people see things in us that we don’t see in ourselves. It’s especially nice when they tell us so. Their observations are clues; crumbs we can follow when we are ready to journey back to ourselves. What that lovely professor said to me a decade and half ago—after observing me give gentle and astute critical feedback to colleagues in our graduate seminar—finally makes sense. I get it now. I’m glad to finally own my natural talent with students again, in workshop settings or while coaching individuals, and I’m so grateful he cared enough to share his opinion out loud.