Review: Five lessons only failure can teach you

Author: Liz Ryan

Review by Alice Cassidy, Ph.D.
Liz’s Five lessons only failure can teach you was a tad light. In my view, the lessons were all versions of the same basic message:  Reflect and see what you might learn from a mistake. Fix it, if you can, as soon as possible. Realize that mistakes are what make us human. Move forward. But there were certainly some insights to be gained, for any part of our lives, including our work as educational developers.

The first lesson (Back up and reflect), suggested (to me at least) – maybe that was unintentional -  that all failures are your fault or you caused them. We all know this is not true.  You may wish to read my related personal story “Build your own rainbow”, relating my journeys of late in the realm of educational development and teaching and learning related jobs.

In How to set intention, Ryan urges people to make commitments, privately, in order to move on. I see merit in this. I also see value in telling others, as this can often help you stick to your plan and once you meet it, you can revel in sharing that too. Maybe it depends on what it is. In a former job, a small group of us (all educational developers) lamented that we often could not “find the time” to write. Though we were all good at meeting external deadlines, if it was something important to us but that lacked a real deadline, it often got moved back to meet the deadlines for important (and sometimes unimportant) tasks.

Our solution was to set aside one-hour blocks weekly or so, meet to say what we were going to work on, then separating to work alone. We agreed to not read email, answer the phone or get caught up in asides. After the one hour, we met as a group and noted what we got done. It was quite magical – one hour – no distractions, open commitments, and sharing successes. Try it. We found that it worked very well.

One lesson (Soften the energy), did make me think.  I call this “going to your happy place”, even for a short time.  Other ideas include taking a break, be it a mental or a physical one. Go for a walk, visit a friend. It is amazing how, once you stop dwelling on a problem, even if you have solved it, coming back to it often makes it seem far less horrible. At work, this might be taking a walk on campus, or closing the door and listening to music for your ‘coffee break’. Try it.

I think this lesson also relates to putting things in context. Something that goes wrong in your educational development work does seem like the ‘worst thing’, often when it has just occurred or you have not yet figured out a solution (But, have you tried talking to colleagues? They are great sounding boards.) We also find ways to put things in perspective during those sad times when a family member or friend has a serious health challenge, or dies suddenly. Not to be too maudlin, but it does make the day to day work we do seem trivial in the grand scheme of things.

All in all, I think Ryan’s Five Lessons are worth a read. I also think this article can helps us reflect on the difference between a mistake and a failure (not always the same) and, maybe even more importantly, to be aware of what is in our control to change and what is not.


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