Coming to Terms with Mistakes

One of the key requirements for reflection is coming to terms with your mistakes. It’s not enough to look back at what has happened and just see the past, it’s taking the time to more than recognize the mistake, but accept them for what they are.

I try to do this, and often. Reflection has been a part of my own continued personal and professional development, in the Army and now in education, since my 20’s when I had Army leaders talk with me about the need to include reflection and our open and honest embracing of mistakes as a daily part of grown and development. When you have a culture of tolerance, and a culture of learning, mistakes happen and are welcome. I had long periods in my military career when I benefited from this, and short periods when I did not. I have tried to close out my days – each day – with quiet time to reflect on all that has gone right, and all that has gone wrong, and to find a way to look for and come to terms with my mistakes.

Who did it, and what did they do. I did it. Me. Because once I have accepted the blame, and the issue of who is to blame is off the table, then we – all of us – can move on to finding solutions. And I would rather we – all of us – do that.

I’ve made mistakes this year, as I have struggled to find balance in my life. I started my new job, as we have also continued to work to settle into our new life here in Portland. A new job, a new employer, a whole new field. I am out of the military, and teaching full time – an instructor at the college level. I know and understand well that there is no “work / life balance”; I’ve had this conversation all too many time with my closest of mentors at every stage of my career. There is only life balance. It all needs to be in balance.

And during this year I could see, just as I can see now, with the benefit of hindsight, that I was not keeping it in balance this year – just as I understand that this should have been expected.  Hell, it was all new to me. I am thankful every day that I have a great, wonderful, loving and amazeballs wife who does more to keep our life in balance that I every could, but I also realize that I clearly made mistakes – some very clear, very poignant ones – that worked to push life out of whack.

I’m learning.

I’ve also made my last out-of-region appearances at conferences, unless I am to do it. I had some great experiences this year – to include presenting at ISTE in Denver this summer and at TIES in Minneapolis this December – but I should have seen that my planning for and presenting at these kinds of conferences has really jumped the shark, unless it’s going to be as a guest of the event itself. And by guest, I mean, you know, them paying me to come and do it.

I truly do enjoy being involved in these types of events, but they are not tied to or integrated with the requirements of my work – and as such, my Dept is not going to pony up and cover associated costs. This is a cold, hard reality. And the materials I present are taking me to conferences that are not providing development for my own personal and professional needs. It was a mistake, this year, to continue to think otherwise.

I’m learning. The answer is, in 2017, I need to write more and, in the end, have published a book so that others can use that as a vehicle to have reason to bring me to these kinds of events. It’d be great to travel more, and speak more, and give more keynote talks, run workshops, but those things work on a formula, and today, that includes having a book to stand on. I recognized that earlier this year; I just didn’t do anything about it. I need to do something about it in 2017.

And with that, I took on two projects with work – voluntarily – for this coming Spring semester that I really should not have. Starting in January, I am going to be leading a cohort of undergraduates through an 8 week internship with the Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a component of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), looking at all things drones. It’s a unique opportunity that has presented itself, and I am somewhat just making it happen. As a part of this, I am writing a new course from scratch, and will be teaching it, in a hybrid format (online and via video) to my students in Texas. I am excited about the opportunity, but I realized that this a mistake – this is taking me away from my core responsibilities, my core duties, my core role as an instructor for the department. I am there to teach the courses that already exist, not to create these kinds of opportunities – however cool they may be. This opportunity with CBP and DHS is unique, and a great opportunity for our students and the department, but it isn’t my role.

And I have offered to teach a one-time-only course this spring, on counter-intelligence. We don’t have a CI-specific course in our catalog, so I offered to develop and teach one this spring as a special elective. This might not seem like a mistake but it is – my school and Department did not need this course, and did not solicit me to create it, in order for it to be added to the catalog on a permanent basis. As such, I really am just going to be doing this as a special topic, this once. And again, this is a distraction from the core capability I am suppose to be bringing to my department, that of being an awesome instructor for the courses that already exist in our department and in our program. I can and should be focused there, on being a great instructor and on excelling at teaching those courses already in our program.

I’m learning. Some things, I can discern quickly from a quicker feedback cycle, but other things – like these – take longer and a more protracted process. They are no less important, as is that process. These lessons, and that process, shouldn’t be saved only for some end-of-December or end of the year review, but should be a part of a healthy and ongoing reflection process to further anyone’s personal and professional development, as well as their own growth. Minor adjustments can and should be made as soon as they are identified, but these… these longer, broader, more subtle ones can take time to identify. Think about them, reflect on them. Talk them over with mentors. And then develop plans to act on them.

Learn. Move forward.

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