Second-hand lessons from first-hand failures


This is a sobering poster, seen in a classroom used regularly by safety trainers for the offshore oil industry.

Have you ever had to teach or been taught from someone else’s notes? It can be stilted, awkward and lacklustre, however thorough your preparation is.  Ah, there’s nothing like working with your own interpretation of a subject in any teaching situation!

Thoughts of my earliest attempts to teach the physiology of pain now make me smile. I once created an elaborate poster/collage of washing line nerves running into a transverse section of a cabbage for a brain. I was full of imagination and enthusiasm, very much deceived by the need to feel like an expert in my subject.

At the same time I was in awe of a slightly older, more seasoned teacher and trainer called Janis.  She was able to walk into a roomful of learners, quickly assess their relevant needs and seemingly, effortlessly pull exactly the right material from her toolbox of knowledge, models, tools, analogies, anecdotes and research-based findings.

Just the other day, a good 23 years on from those clumsy lessons of mine, I had a realisation that now I was doing just that! And I probably have been for quite some time! Wow Janis would have been proud of me!  I was authentically confident because I was making an opportunity to work with my own material arising from my own experience written in my own words with my own lived examples! Teaching doesn’t get better than that!

How had this happened?

This was once the schoolgirl swot, so entrenched in her narrow field of “A” level subjects that she gained a “D” in General Studies (only able to hazard guesses at the multiple choice language comprehension  by reading the questions).  How did I ever come to the point of even a fighting chance at identifying a correct “Pointless”* answer (on occasions)?

It’s a fair trade-off.

I suppose its called experience. Not just the passage of time, though that happens, but accurate interpretation of it. What someone of my age might lack in energy and zeal, they should by now have acquired in knowledge, understanding and wisdom.

This is how I experienced a wonderful thing last month whilst teaching a small group of women about the Knot of Stuntedness. Something far more invigorating than physical energy kicked in. Something like a mixture of conviction, fluency, volume and authenticity synched at a new level and I knew that I was experiencing a flow of passion that came from my story, my survival, my singularity.

This group of girls with life-controlling issues and the high degree of brokenness within the room were sucking the life out of me! It was marvellous and I recognised the moment where I received a desire of my heart that had lain unanswered for many years.  I was able to exercise my gift almost unconsciously with passion!

Second-hand zeal?

I craft lessons I want to share and I labour over discovery of principles for others’ fulfilment. I long for it to be possible to gain and help others gain THAT kind of convergence about things they have simply read or watched or heard about. The hard fact is that my nuggets are no more accessible than anyone else’s!

The truth is that we humans are really poor at learning from those that go before us.  We tend to have to make the mistakes for ourselves in order to experience first-hand pain of failure and attunement to further risk.

So why do I keep putting myself in a roomful of learners? 

Sometimes they are hungry; sometimes unconvinced. Why do I work to build rapport with strangers who may find my thoughts remarkable or unfathomable (I never know, until I walk in that door, which “example” it will be, which “disclosure” it will take or how long it might require to move anyone from start to finish!) Or whether anyone is already past start or even finish!

And what then? I may be thanked, forgotten or fooled by the whole experience. Ultimately I believe that even if I can’t help others learn from what is to them my second hand failures, I can help them efficiently recognise and grow up from their own.


Recognising that we are not failures but we can choose to be formed by failure.

Recognising that frustration can actually be our friend and not our enemy.


*”Pointless” is a UK, TV general knowledge game show in which the prize-winner is able to pick an answer that is  correct, the most obscure possible by not already having been mentioned in a previous poll of 100 people.

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