PROCESS POST: Prompted Reflection on Vocation, Mindset, Success and Failure – Inspired by Elizabeth Gilbert

I love school. And I love learning and education even better than I love school… even better than I love myself.

That love is what drives my learning and education about school.

Many of you readers know that I wanted to be a pediatric oncologist for much of my life – from about age seven until about age 20. For years and years, more recently, I’ve told a story about how my career pursuit shifted from children’s cancer research and science to educational research and science.

Now, I realize, if I zoom out far enough, I haven’t really pivoted at all. If cancer is basically the mutation of great and healthy cells into devastating and unhealthy cells, then school may very well be like a human organism filled with virtually countless cells – many and most of them being the healthy cells of learning and education, and only a few being the unhealthy cells of certain school attributes gone bad.

I’m committed to helping ensure that the healthy cells in the body win out. And so I am willing to aggressively pursue educational and learning research. To wake up at ridiculous hours to read, write, and study. To tire myself and to experience considerable dead ends, frustrations, and temporary failures. And to learn from the successes and discoveries.

And to not let any of the successes or failures define me. But rather to steer me onward. Because I love learning and education far more than I love school or myself.

Thanks to Elizabeth Gilbert for this prompted reflection.

Cut it to your core and concentrate on clarity

Rob Evans spoke of taking things off of our plates before adding more on. Gary Hamel introduced the notion of core competencies. And Greg McKeown gave us the clarity paradox.

“the clarity paradox,” … can be summed up in four predictable phases:

Phase 1: When we really have clarity of purpose, it leads to success. 
Phase 2: When we have success, it leads to more options and opportunities. 
Phase 3: When we have increased options and opportunities, it leads to diffused efforts. 
Phase 4: Diffused efforts undermine the very clarity that led to our success in the first place.

Curiously, and overstating the point in order to make it, success is a catalyst for failure.

– from “The Disciplined Pursuit of Less,” Harvard Business Review, August 8, 2012.

It’s a fundamental principal of design, too. Take away all that is non-essential. Reduce until you cannot reduce any more. Then, the best will remain. When I think of this principal, I think of a sculptor reducing a block of marble to the essential remains – I see something like Michelangelo’s David. In fact, now that I think of it, the content of the statue points strongly to the lesson, as well – a small boy with only a sling defeating an enormous giant.

One way in which a school can achieve systemic unity and cohesive pedagogical architecture – don’t add so much to your plate…know your core competency…maintain your clarity of purpose…strip away the stone to reveal the statue…master the sling and know your creator instead of carrying too many weapons and weighing yourself down with too much proudly worn armor.