Staying Positive While Failing Miserably

– By Schon Beechler

Monday I arrived in India in a state of Lift, believing that teaching here for the first time would offer me an opportunity to positively impact a class of Indian managers and personally experience a dramatic learning experience. Today, it’s Friday, and the program is over. As anticipated, I’ve had a rich learning experience.  Other than that, it’s been pretty much of a disaster.

How was it a disaster? Let me count the ways… 1. It was a disaster in terms of teaching evaluations – I got my lowest evaluations ever in executive education – and I’ve been doing this for over 20 years. There were a few 4’s and 5’s (out of 5) but most evaluations were 3’s and one person gave me a 1. That was a first. 2. It was a disaster in that I tried to take the feedback that I received yesterday afternoon, solicit additional clarifying feedback and change my session to reflect that – but it didn’t seem to have any impact at all. And, most importantly,  3. It was a disaster because I had the final two and a half days in a high-profile two week course that was going great until I showed up. The other faculty and staff are, understandably, unhappy and upset with this outcome. I don’t think anyone will be sorry to see me leave tonight.

I can’t deny or sugarcoat the outcomes for my employer or the participants in any way.  At the same time, this experience also represents a personal triumph for me. Throughout this crucible experience – even when I received well-meaning but devastating criticism from the program director only 5 minutes before I had to stand up in front of the class and teach again – I was able to stay in a state of Lift.

As I reconvened the class, I was overwhelmed by emotion. My stomach was in my throat and red hot embarrassment blazed across my cheeks. There was a tiny voice in my head blaming the students for being immature and shallow. Another voice was furious at the program director for dumping this on me five minutes before class. And, even more loudly, I heard the voice that said, “you simply can’t do this.” Everything that was happening seemed to be the exact opposite of the result that I was trying to create.

Breathing deeply, I faced the participants, staying purpose-centered and internally-directed and focused on the future and my goal of creating the best possible learning experience possible for my participants in the time that we had left together.  I stayed other-focused and quieted the voices in my head so I could hear those of my students. I struggled to put the common good ahead of the preservation of my self.  And, despite everything that was happening to pull me under, I won the battle against closing down and kept myself externally open.

I shared with them that I had just received their feedback and asked what suggestions they had for change. As I listened to their suggestions, I stayed internally directed. When the changes seemed to be for “edu-tainment” reasons or because “all of the other faculty members have done it this way,” I put them aside and focused on the changes they recommended that I truly believed could enhance their learning. I tried to adapt my session in real time and over-night, re-did my session for this morning.

It’s Friday and the program is over. I’m exhausted. I’m sad and I’m disappointed. This was not the result I wanted to create by coming here. I spent a lot of time and effort preparing for this engagement and, despite everything, I still failed a lot of people .  I failed, but I did it admirably. I didn’t lash out in anger or frustration. I didn’t close down. And I didn’t abandon my purpose that brought me here. I will never brag about what happened this week but in a small quiet way, I am grateful for the experience and know that I have reason to celebrate.