Well... the universe has spoken. I got my rejection letter for the University of Guelph-Humber position I applied for while sitting on (see earlier Post) the plane after flying home from a Cuban vacation. Not a bad way to read a rejection letter, admitedly. But in all honesty, I knew it was coming. The interview was not bad and I am definitely qualified for the position - well qualified and I would do an excellent job indeed. But I didn’t present myself as best as I could have in the interview. I was likeable and knowledgeable but I didn’t let my brilliance and real experience shine. In hindsight I realized that my age-old issue of failing to express myself clearly and elaborately came shining through instead. Too often I fail in this regard by either rushing through my thoughts or simply failing to properly explain everything, under the assumption that everyone else’s brain is working like mine and knows exactly what I am trying to say. I gloss over important details assuming others have been on the same thought journey I have been on, for example when asked about my teaching philosophy. In fact, I have an incredible teaching philosophy describes important 21st-Century Skills in the classroom with explicit examples of how I address these issues. I also discuss the use of applied neuroscience in the classroom to help deal with student stress and anxiety. I even talk about using failure as a tool for learning rather than a punishment. I could have talked about this for an hour and even had a written copy of my philosophy on hand, which I gave to the interviews. But did I discuss it in the way that did it justice? No, absolutely not. Hindsight in 20/20.
This problem has crept into my life several times.
I remember one very poignant example that launched a turning point for me. I had been working for weeks on designing an experiment, back when I was in grad school. I had read all the recent and old scientific literature on a particularly phenomenon that I was trying to gain insight into. I was in the midst of developing a hypothesis of why my laboratory rats were displaying extreme forms of anxiety in unfamiliar places. I presumed it had to do with the area of the brain known as the hippocampus, which is involved in memory of spatial context. My hypothesis was that the hippocampus was dysfunctional and therefore when my rats were placed in an unfamiliar environment, there were not able to familiarize themselves like normal rats (and people) do, instead become more, rather than less, fearful of their environment. As a result of this hypothesis, I had designed a set of experiments to specifically test whether this was what was occurring. Eventually, I settled on what I thought was the best and ingenious way to test this. I went running into my doctoral supervisors office with this brilliant experiment! I was so excited that I rushed through the various background information to get to the punch line (i.e., the actual experiment) and then waited for her to say to me “That’s brilliant Mandy!!”. But that’s not what she said. Instead what I heard was “That’s a terribly stupid idea Mandy!” (what she actually said was more like “I don’t know about that Mandy, I don’t think that’s a very good idea.”
WTF!!!!! I screamed in my head. I’m sure my face dropped along with my heart, both of which fell heavy on my crushed ego laying on the floor. I was devastated. I could barely talk. I tried to recover and explain things but I could barely muster up any coherent thinking. I eventually left her office and ran to the bathroom. There, I cried. Yes, I cried.
I was not just sad, I was angry! Sooooo angry! It wasn’t just a good idea in my mind. It really was a great set of experiments. It was really good!
Eventually, I explained it well enough to connive my supervisor that it was a good idea. The experiment worked out nicely and later when my supervisor presented my data at a conference and an expert in the field praised us for the well-thought out experiments that creatively tested a good hypothesis. We eventually published the data in a book chapter edited by that same expert and the data fit with a healthy body of research that supports my original hypothesis. So indeed, it is and was a great idea back then and now!
But when I think back to my supervisor’s reaction to my proposed idea back in her office that day, she was absolutely justified in her evaluation of it being a terrible idea and I was to blame. I had failed to present my ideas clearly and elaborately. Instead, I rushed through my thinking process and failed to bring her on the journey I had been on for weeks in any constructive way. I had not done justice to all of the hours of thinking and reading and researching I had put into coming up with this experiment and did not explain the rationale behind my idea in any useful manner.
That is common for me: I fail to express myself properly… over and over again. And it comes up in so many areas of my life, even as I continue to work (hard) on it. With friends and during debates. As a lecturer and professor. As a life coach. As a wife and daughter. But I am getting better and use opportunities like my recent interview to continue to progress.
That moment with my supervisor was absolutely pivotal in teaching me a need to articulate myself properly. I took it upon myself to claim responsibility and with that comes incredible empowerment. It’s not only enough to acknowledge our failures, although that is the important starting point. Once we acknowledge our failures, we must learn from them. But that comes with time and practice. I can only imagine how many times I failed to express myself without the slightest bit of awareness. Thankfully, this lesson struck a cord.