There’s a little girl at school who I’ve known for several years. She’s a great kid, smart, and fun. If I were allowed to have favorite students, she could qualify. The one troubling thing about her is that she often cries when she realizes she’s made a mistake, even a small one.
Today, I know how she feels. I made a mistake yesterday and missed an event I was scheduled to speak at. (Fortunately I wasn’t the only speaker!) I can say in all honesty, this is only the second time in my career I have missed a speaking or teaching assignment.
Perhaps I can balance my sadness by telling the story of the time I almost missed a teaching assignment. Actually, I didn’t totally miss it and it’s a sorta funny story. Let me explain.
I was conducting a series of supervisor training classes in conjunction with a project at a client’s site. I was on site, working in a spare office. One of the other consultants, Bill, stuck his head in the door and announced, “You know there are a bunch of supervisors waiting for you in the training room?” I immediately realized I’d forgotten I had a class scheduled and jumped up in panic.
Bill started laughing. You have to be creative and flexible in the consulting business. Bill was certainly not an exception. He motioned me to sit down and then told me the rest of his story.
“I was walking by the room and noticed them all in there… so I walked in and asked them what was going on. One of the students explained that they thought ‘Walter is punishing us…’ When I asked why, they explained that many of them had been late for the last class and they were pretty sure you were showing them how it felt by not being on time yourself.”
Now it would be great if the story ended there. But Bill had more to tell me.
“I asked them how the class usually started and they explained that they usually reviewed homework as a group. So I suggested they start without you. That way they could show you that they were learning to accept responsibility and becoming self-starters. So if I were you, I’d give it a couple more minutes, the stroll in casually and act surprised.”
I did just that.
When I walked into the room, one of the students was standing at the flipchart recording the group’s answers while another student was facilitating a discussion of the homework. After that portion of the class was over, I thanked the self-appointed leaders and continued with the rest of the class as if I’d actually planned it that way. We “debriefed” the process and decided to rotate the responsibility among the students for the homework discussion during future classes.
Thanks to Bill’s quick thinking we truly made lemonade from a lemon. My reputation remained intact, the students learned something, and future classes were actually improved.
Unfortunately, I haven’t come up with a similar solution for this time. I suppose I could call Bill to see if he has any ideas, but it’s probably too late. Due to distance and time there was no way I could make it by the time I received the phone call asking where I was. It didn’t occur to me to cry, but I did (and do) feel really bad.
Today I’m trying to remember some of the things I say to my young friend when she cries. “Making mistakes is okay… sometimes what you think is a mistake isn’t… we can learn from our mistakes…” Ultimately, it is about perspective, right?
The shared story happened about thirty years ago. So if I can go another thirty years without forgetting a teaching or speaking assignment, I guess that’s not a bad record, really.
Wait! I didn’t actually miss that class thirty years ago–I was just late. So if I can go this long before I miss another teaching or speaking assignment, that will be a pretty good record. And I’ll also be really old!