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. 

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AuthorMandy Wintink
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In honour of my new failure blog, today I did 3 things liable to result in failure. I actually, I don't think I actually did these in honor of it, I actually just did them, likely provoked by the idea of blogging about failures.

This is what I did:

1. I applied for a job at Sheridan College for "Director of Career Education". It's a temporary job and I think it could be fun. A big part of me wants to make an impact on the post-secondary education system. I tried to do that with a mentorship, experiential, personalized-curriculum organization that I co-founded a few years ago called UExperience. It was dismantled about a year after going public with it. It was a failure... but I'm ok with that one. I feel like I have other things to do before I come back to that idea.

2. I applied for a job at Humber College for the Assistant Program Head of Psychology, although I already know I will fail because I just re-read the job ad and only NOW realize that it was actually for University of Guelph-Humber College, which is NOT Humber College. Oh well, I probably would not have applied if I realized it correctly.

3. I tweeted @Ideacitynews and asked how I could get invited to talk at IdeaCity2015. They responded and told me to send a pitch. I just did. We'll see what happens.

Worst case scenario I hear nothing from any of these.

What I did NOT do, was write anything related to my manuscript.
#selfsabotage?
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AuthorMandy Wintink
N.B. This one is a retrospective look at last week. It came up before I decided to declare my failures publicly. 

This fall I vowed to complete the manuscript of the book I have been working on for, admittedly, over 10 years now. Granted, it’s form back in 2003, when I first started, was drastically different than it’s current form. But regardless, it’s been something I have been doing and thinking about doing for too long now. 

This month has been a really great month of writing. Summer ended and I decided the fall was going to be my month to write… and to finish! Although I haven’t spent as many hours on my manuscript as I had intended, I feel like the quality of the work is better than I thought it would be. So, in essence, it felt good. Well, at least until last week, when the thoughts started to creep in:

What are you think? 
Are you an idiot?
You ARE an idiot?
Who do you think you are?
You can’t write a book.
You suck.
You’re writing is terrible. Look, you even made that cringe-worthy typo!!
WTF? This book is a stupid idea.
You can’t do it. 
This idea is way to big. 
And no one cares about your personal story. Grow up. Stop self-indulging.
You can’t write this in away that makes sense to others.
Stop. Stop now. 
This isn’t going to work.
Do you even know WTF you are writing about?
What’s your point?
What’s your message?
You don’t even know how to explain your book when someone asks. 
Stop. Stop right now.
You’re confused. And if you’re confused then your readers are going to be confused. 
You can’t do it!
Yada yada yada 

In the past, those thoughts would have crippled me. I remember when I launched my first life coaching course. After each of the 5 weekends I would call Mike crying insisting that I didn’t know what I was doing, that it was too hard to bring together psychology, neuroscience, mindfulness, and yoga. I would feel defeated for a few days. Fortunately, I had enough people paying me to continue that I did actually continue. I endured a list of statements much like the one above. 

Eventually, I got over it. Or rather, I got through it. During my course and last week. When the thoughts emerged last week, they came up quickly. But, unlike times of the past, they didn’t seem to invoke the same visceral reaction that they normally do. It’s as if they floated in and then just as easily as they surfaced they floated on by. As I noticed them, I remember actively turning to them and saying “No! You can’t do this to me. I’m not listening.” and I continued to write. 


I know these thoughts have weight and significance. And in all honesty, I have no idea if they are valid. But I do know that in the past, when they have emerged in the exact same way, they were wrong. I did launch a great course and it continues to be a great course. So all I know is that I am not prepared to let these defeating thoughts defeat me. I realize I might fail, that this book might actually be the REAL ridiculous project, distinct from the others, worse than all other projects. I cringe at that thought. But, I need to do this. I need to get this book done. If only to ease my mind and let this horse be dead. It’s been 11 years of this baby is growing inside of me. It’s time to give birth. 
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AuthorMandy Wintink
Ok peeps, I have a proposition, it’s to fail— online, in real time, as it happens, vulnerably. Why? Because in all the failure talks I hear, watch, or deliver, it’s always retrospective, never prospective.

On the weekend Mike and I were listening to Alex Osterwalder, the co-author and founder of Business Model Generation, speak at the Business Innovation Factor talks about failure. He gave a lovely talk entitled “Why I want my kids to fail” and, like many other failure proponents, he describe the rationale for why failure is so important. He talked about how many of us undervalue it in pursuit of success, which is unfortunate because failure provides the actual tools for learning and for greater success. Acknolwedging how important failures are for success, he gave a few examples of his own failures and how pivotal they were to his eventual success. He said he felt vulnerable sharing them.

It reminded me of my own talks on the subject, where I make the argument that we (and our brains) are wired to fail, and, more important, we are wired to learn from failures and all related phenomena including mistakes and errors. In each of my talks on failure, I try to highlight my own particular failures. I ask them to look at their failures (on a piece of paper where they have privately written them down) and to feel the body sensations associated with the failure(s). As we examine our failures, we are liable to feel many sensations, most of which are uncomfortable, which is the reason many of us fear failure. We feel raw, exposed, and vulnerable as we expose a part of ourselves that we so often desperately trying to conceal. 

As I present, I feel that too as I present my own failures. I try to chose one that still makes me feel raw. Last week I shared one about my poor university teaching evaluations last year. As I speak, it’s there, staring back at me and all the people in the audience. Standing there, I feel like everyone is judging me. Or at least enough of them are. For the 40 minutes I linger in that excruciating pain, trying to prove a point: this sucks! 

Feeling a failure (or like a failure) is so incredibly uncomfortable. It hurts. We discuss all the symptoms associated with it: heart racing, sweaty, tense, head hurts, shoulders are heavy, pit in our stomach, throat is tight… the list goes on. It mimics many of the physical feelings associated with the fight or flight (or freeze) response. I continue to feel uncomfortable myself as my failure continues to loom behind me. 

But, because I have practiced this much, I know that the uncomfortability will eventually run it’s course and I will emerge on the other side more adaptable as a result. As uncomfortable as that was, I survived. The sensations, the fear, the uncomfortability, or however we label the aversive experiences associated with failure, eventually DO run their course. That is important to know. 

Eventually, I share my reframe, what I learned from my failure, what I did with that feedback, and how I changed and improved as a result. But I do so with the aim of being vulnerable as I do it. 

While listening to failure talk by Alex, Mike and I both noted that it’s easier to talk about your failures when you are a success. It’s also much different to hear about someone else’s failures when they are not personal for you. We both acknowledged that no one is going to go up on stage and say “Hey, I failed. PERIOD. I’m a failure, a loser, and I have nothing to show for it. Now listen to me because I am an example of how failure is important.” Fair enough. 

But I can’t help but wonder about the potential value of sharing failures, as they happen. What if someone stood up there and said “hey, I’m about to embark on a journey and I might fail, come watch me fail and (hopefully) learn from it.” Doing THAT would be WAY more uncomfortable than my 40-minute pause until I get to tell everyone “hey, guess what?! I’m not really a failure. I learned lots and I succeeded in other ways. You can stop judging me now. I am not actually a loser!” There, I know it’s coming. I am still in control… as long as everyone stays in the audience. But what if I didn’t have that control? 

I happen to be in the business of vulnerability. In many walks of my life, I put myself into uncomfortable situations where I disclose and expose myself, publicly and uncomfortably. It started with my writing (personal stuff that I posted online) and evolved into an on-stage production known as Body Monologues. It seeped into my teaching as a storytelling tool and a way to inspire relatability.  It comes up with clients who I’m coach. It’s one of the main elements of a book I am writing right now, one that I might fail at.

So here is my proposition: I will share with you my journey in writing my book. It’s a journey toward a potential failure… or a potential success. I don’t actually know so I don’t have the luxury of knowing when my 40 minutes are up and I can say “see, I’m worthy again!”. I will be forced to endure the uncomfortability of my endeavour publicly. I have no publisher. I have no agent. I have no pre-orders. I plan to invest money, time, and my ego in this thing. I don’t even know who would buy my book other than people in my courses who are forced to. This project could be a complete failure. But I want to share it. 

I want to document and publicize my failures (and any learning and success that may happen too) as it happens, not retrospectively, but as I prepare to finish, publish, and launch my book. The purpose of this failure project is to push my own boundaries of uncomfortability and to be more vulnerable in the exposures of my failures, while also supporting a mission to embrace failures as a natural and necessary part of life and success.

Please follow if you want but ask one thing: that no one offers any consolation during my darkest hours. I want to sit and process and reflect along this journey just the same as I normally would. I want to share it as uncensored as I can without worry of having to protect others. What do I mean by that? Well, in addition to feeling our own failures strongly, sometimes other people’s failures trigger our sense of failure. I remember that experience very distinctly when I first heard Brian Goldman, MD and host of White Coat, Black Art, speak about his failures in the emergency room. It made me VERY uncomfortable to hear about his mistakes. Mistakes that caused severe consequences. I cringed almost stopped listening. His failures triggered my own fear of failure and it made me feel very vulnerable.

So here goes. As I go to post this I feel like I did my first time. Incredibly scared. I am worried people will think I am crazy for doing this. Or worse, that they won’t care at all. But I can endure 40 minutes. I know that much. And that’s enough to push me to post.


Suggested Resources:

Mandy Wintink - Pop-Up Neuroscience Class (CANCommunity YouTube Channel) on Failure


Alex Osterwalder-  #BIF10 (Business Innovation Factory) Talk “Why I Want My Kids To Fail


Brian Goldman - #TEDxToronto Talk. “Doctors Make Mistakes. Can We Talk About That?”   


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AuthorMandy Wintink