Tag Archives: failure

Embracing Failure

Last night I had one of those experiences where after it was over, all I could do was sit down and think, “Embrace the failure. What can I learn from this?” Also, I kept thinking, “Deep breaths.”

I’d been recruited to give part of a series of presentations. I was just the warm-up act. And while the presentation and the parameters and the timeline of when I was to do it the first time kept changing, I wasn’t prepared. I was wending my way through my part when part of my brain just thought, “The best thing for you to do is wrap up and hand it off to the next guy. If you missed anything (and you did), someone else will pick it up.” I was just way over my head. That hasn’t happened to me in a long time.

When it was over, I talked to two people who are very experienced speakers and who knew the extent to which my presentation had gone off the rails. I told them both that this experience would inform how I prepare for the next presentation.

I’m not big on beating up on myself. I am a true believer that we are all doing the best we can at any moment. Thus, the thing to do is learn from it. Also, think of the good things about this failure.

  1. It was a small room mostly filled with people who I either rarely see or might never see again.

    This is takes me back to an old friend who used to say, “What do you care what they think? You’ll never see them again anyway.” Granted, that particular moment was about dancing in club and fearing looking silly, but I’ve soothed myself with that thought many many times in the past quarter century.

  2. I now know how I will prepare for the next time I give this presentation.

    This has happened a number of times in my life. I think, “Well now that I’ve done it, I get it. I could do it so much better next time.” And now I can. I know what’s coming. In this case, at least, it’s the same presentation eight more times.

  3. This will inform how I prepare for other presentations and talks I’ll need to give.

    I expect to speak I front of audiences and give presentations and trainings for years to come. I have gotten much more comfortable and I’ve gotten myself into some good habits. I’m aware of how my brain works and I generally upload information into my brain so that it’s accessible. I know what I did to prepare for this. Note to self: that didn’t work.

Years ago, I found a book entitled, What to Say When You Talk to Yourself by Shad Helmstetter. It changed my life. It changed the way I think. It’s a great book, but the gist of it is this: Quit saying mean things to yourself. Say nice things.

I had a rough moment last night, but lived through it and I learned something.

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Resulting Basics

Listening to Annie Duke’s most recent book, Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts, I was intrigued with her discussion on ‘resulting’.

The word (a term that is used in poker meaning “creating too tight a relationship between the quality of the outcome and the quality of the decision”) came up when she was talking about deciding if a non-poker-related decision had been good or not.

I feel like I need a good example here, so I’m going to use my decision to leave my last job. I had a permanent contract and I was guaranteed .5 FT hours, but I regularly got extra hours, bringing me up to .7 FT hours. It gave me a regular (rather modest) income with time left over to pursue other interests (both income producing and non-income producing.) In a lot of ways, it was a pretty nice deal. However, I wasn’t really happy. I didn’t particularly like the pace of the workload or school year, and I had a few other issues with the job. (Not the students. I always loved teaching those kids even when it was a challenging group.) Also, in terms of my money-making prospects, it was a dead end. I decided to leave. Was it a good decision?

I could say, “Yes. As it turns out, I landed on my feet. I got a couple of classes in another department at the same school and I’m making up the rest of the hours teaching Chinese kids online with time left over to do other things.”

However, that’s resulting. That’s putting too much emphasis on the results. The question was about the decision. Was it the right decision?

What if the opposite had happened? I could say, “I haven’t worked much. No one’s hiring English teachers, and my freelancing isn’t working out.”

Again, this is looking too much at the results.

My understanding of resulting is that while the results may weigh in on the question of whether it was the right decision to leave the job, I have to look at the whole situation. I was not happy. I was in a situation where I walked into that building every day and thought, “Why am I still here?” Had a stayed, I would be in a terrible situation mentally and emotionally. I can’t imagine being happy still doing that. I felt so penned in.

Also, leaving made me feel really good. I’m always one for new adventures, new possibilities and new challenges. And the feeling I had when September rolled around and I didn’t have to go back to school was everything. Interestingly, I’ve always loved September. I love a new school year. I love meeting new students. That’s why I’ve always been a sucker for school: new books, clean classrooms, new people to meet. However, I can still feel that elation I had of being at home and not going in to school.

It seems to me that resulting also applies to our students. That was my original point. According to Ms. Duke, we are all born resulters. Outcomes affect us. Notice how I talked about how happy not going back to work made me. That was a result, right? However, if I look at how I made the decision, balancing my work history, my age, what I had to offer to the world against my happiness (or lack thereof) and the cost of spending all that time at school (as well as the travel to and from), I have to say that it was a good decision.

The fact that I was very happy in the end might just be an extra, added bonus.

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Being Good All the Time Would be Boring

Listening to James Altucher interview Paul Mercurio, Mercurio said, “Brian Regan said it best: It would be really boring if you killed all the time.”

These are comedians. They stand in front of people (often drunk, rude people) and tell jokes for a living. I have no experience with this, but I feel like I can relate somewhat. He followed up that quote by talking about how sometimes he goes on stage and a certain piece works. Other times he does the same piece and it doesn’t work. Maybe something happened to them before you started speaking. But if every time he went up and everything that came out of his mouth either make people laugh or got the same response, it would be boring. Part of the fun, it seems, is in not being sure of how they are going to react to the material.

I’ve long said that part of what I like about being a teacher is the performance aspect. Yes, I like being a positive change in students’ lives. I love that I can help them understand concepts, be part of their journey into adulthood, and toss juicy bits of knowledge into their hungry minds, but I love being on stage.

I’ve had teaching jobs where I had to deliver the same lesson to up to seven (yes, seven) classes in a week. That was years ago. More recently, it’s only been three or four. It’s amazing to me the difference in response that I get to the same story. I’ll tell a story in one class and they all laugh. I tell the same story the same way to another class and I may get a snicker from one kid in the back. Then I’ll try it again and get nothing. It’s the same with a reading comprehension exercise or explaining a grammar structure. Sometimes it flies and sometimes it doesn’t.

One of the most fascinating parts of teaching for me is reading a class. Each class has a different personality. Sometimes they are mostly smart, funny and ready to learn. Sometimes a cynic has infected the class and they all tend towards a sneer and an eye roll. I’ve had classes of students that have lost so many students through the year or semester that it’s like And Then There Were None. (Never seen that movie? It’s good.) They’re all looking around wondering who’s next.

The variety that we get to experience during a week (or even during a day) is truly one of the great joys of teaching. I’m constantly having to read my ‘audience’ and adjust my material (intellectually or humoristically). Did something just happen? Did they just get bad news or did someone finally read them the riot act? It’s part of the fun. It keeps me on my toes. And while there are 25 other people in the room who are sentient beings affecting the mood of the room in some small way, I take ownership of my classroom, so I feel like what’s happening has something to do with me.

It might not, but at the end of it all I always feel like that if my classes were fabulous all the time, it would be really boring.

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