Orienting ourselves to Learn

By Celeste Dean

Lead Trainer-Business Skills, PurpleLeap

Let me carry forward my discussion on achievements from my previous article, ‘How good is good enough’. I was talking about how important it is to celebrate achievements however big or small they are. But sometimes it takes a little longer to achieve anything. As a child I had to train myself for many years to ride a bicycle whereas my brother and other friends learnt it way before I mastered riding a cycle without trainer wheels. As I grew up it took me a long time and effort to count money when a shopkeeper gave me change, so much so that there are still stories in my family about my currency counting abilities. As a young girl I remember I was demotivated and usually embarrassed when I was unable to do certain things that my peers and juniors were able to do. While there are still many things I am striving hard to achieve, when I look back I find that sometimes we just need to be patient with ourselves to learn. Pushing too hard can lead to frustration and even destruction of self-esteem.

The idea here is to shift our focus from the result to the process. The frustration is because the quality of end result is not in line with our expectations however if we shift focus to what we learn in the process of achieving this end result we can change the way we look at achievements completely. Learning orientation is what brings about this change in perspective.

The definition of the word ‘orientation’ in psychology means the knowledge of one’s own temporal, social, and practical circumstances in life. Therefore, if I put this in perspective of learning, it really means learning to compose my reactions in temporal, social and practical life circumstances. Now this is much deeper than just learning to write a software program or create a new architecture. And much worse this way of learning takes a lifetime to give results and if this was not enough, only if we are ‘oriented’ to learn we will be able to acquire knowledge and skills as well.

For example, if I always had someone in my family to tell me which subject to choose, which bike will be better for me, which shirt color suits me; my learning to compose my reaction to life circumstances will come from what others’ decide for me. Therefore, when I am learning a new skill I will be dependent on others to create an environment and force me to acquire a particular skill. This may be true for some of us in some areas of life if not all. Some of us may be good at researching which motorbike is best as far as the technology and pricing is concerned on Indian roads, yet we may find it a daunting task to select a shirt off the shelf. Some of us may be really good in advising people how to run their lives but we may find it difficult to organize a few books on our book shelf. Such instances in our lives will tell us more about our individual learning orientation in one or more life circumstances.

The most conducive environment to test our learning orientation is to see ourselves react in difficult situations. Yesterday’s newspaper read, ‘14yr-old kills herself over study pressure’. It’s disturbing to see how many of us will react in extreme ways to stress and pressure. There will be others who will look at difficult times as an opportunity to learn something new. The difference in the way we look at circumstances and situations is based on how we have been able to ‘compose our reactions’. The same rule applies to learning a new skill or acquiring new knowledge.

Sometimes composing our reactions may take us a little longer than what we expect of ourselves. Like in my case, I still do not trust myself while counting currency change but yet, I have become better than before and devised innovative ways to add and subtract.

Learning is a process and so is the orientation to learn. Usually learning has little to do with what is achieved at the end because in its essence achievement is the process of learning itself. As a student or even as a professional, while we are extremely worried about the quality of result in the form of numbers on the score card or the pay cheque, we need to give more thought to how this process has added more to our ability to learn.



How good is good enough?

By Celeste Dean

Lead Consultant-Business Skills, PurpleLeap

I start one of my sessions with an activity asking students to draw their self-image where they represent themselves with the help of pictures. Most students from first to final year batches come up with some profound illustrations. Today, when I did this activity for one of my classes, a student represented himself with a candle. The candle denoted him, which gives light to others but lives in darkness itself. I was both elated and disturbed at the same time because this was coming from a 20 something boy who was just about to set foot in the ‘real world’.

In this century, boys and girls are conditioned to become renaissance men and women. They are expected to get good grades, sing or dance well, play at least one sport and one musical instrument. Even a 15 year old is expected to write a few decent computer codes. I know at least a couple of kids who can solder electrical wires and work with machinery at the age of 8. With so much happening in an average student’s life, at some point of time they are forced to assess, ‘How good is good enough’.

I met a young boy in his final year engineering in one of the colleges. He was low on confidence, soaked in self-pity and confused about what he is going to do with his life. Reason, he had drifted from 72% in his 12th standard to 57% by the end of 6 semesters. As I was talking to him about his resume, I probed about what he did as extra-curricular activities and projects. Gradually as he opened up he told me that he was a state level football player, has done a couple of jobs after his 12th standard and has done a couple of projects in his domain of study. It was terrible to know that none of these things he thought were worthy of being added on his resume because his GPA had fallen to 57%. In short he felt he is no good.

All of us who are reading this, whether we are a student, a young professional or a person who has been in the rat race for years now, how good is good enough for us? Do I draw a line for myself somewhere or I keep going on?

Surprisingly I have also heard from students that their unique competency is continuous learning. They want to ‘keep growing like a ladder reaching the skies and beyond’, as illustrated by another student for the same activity. Let’s consider this, if we were climbing a mountain which was covered with clouds that stopped our view of the summit and also did not give an understanding of how far we have moved up from the ground, how are we ever going to know how much distance we have covered and how far are we from the summit? We may very well be standing at the same place where we started.

Pausing at each milestone however will give us a clear idea of where we are in terms of the game plan of our lives. We need to give ourselves a break after achieving every short term goal in our life, to rejoice and to assess if it’s falling in line with our final blue print. Most of us don’t consider this as an important activity but doesn’t that makes us human different from machines? Every small victory is to be celebrated every small achievement is to be acknowledged. If we do this we will have the opportunity to tell ourselves that we are indeed good enough, good enough to have reached this milestone and adding another achievement in our life.

One of the essentials of goal setting is that our goals need to be measurable. The benefit of doing this is to know the before and after  of goal setting which also gives an idea of how much we have moved from a certain point. And if we have moved ahead then there is certainly a reason to rejoice and feel proud of it.

So, the next time we encounter the feeling of ‘Am I good enough?’ we need to look back and see how far we have moved up from the base camp and if our mind is clouded we need to count the various milestones we have crossed, give a pat on our back and then pick up the harness and move ahead because the summit is yet far. Just pausing to acknowledge our achievements will provide enough fuel to motivate us to keep moving.


What’s going on at our terminal?

By Celeste Dean

Lead Consultant-Business Skills, PurpleLeap

Last night I was watching the movie ‘the terminal’ starring Tom Hanks. Besides the fact that the protagonist is my favorite actor, the movie opened my eyes to a lot of questions many of us continuously think about; whether we are students preparing for a corporate life or professionals leading a peaceful or chaotic professional lives.

While I was watching this movie and thinking, a few things fell in perspective in my life.

1.  Being at the wrong place at the wrong time: Viktor Nevorski (aka Tom Hanks) a resident of the country of Krakozhia reaches JFK airport just to find out that while he was in flight his country went to war and does not have a sovereign status under the US laws. Therefore, his passport and legal status as a resident of that country is forfeited and he is now an ‘Unacceptable’.

Many a time we also find ourselves stranded at the wrong place at the wrong time. Maybe we chose a particular stream of study as advised by our peers or parents (becoming an engineer is good for you or an MBA degree will give you an edge in the job market). But when we started off we realized we are stuck, with the wrong subject and a wrong college as well. Same goes for working professionals as well. At one time out of desperation to find a full time job I picked up a job where I found myself stuck. I was stuck in a wrong profile and with wrong people.

Are we dealing with this stage today? Or were we in this stage at any point of time in our life?

2.  The idea is what do we do with the wrong timing and place: Ever heard of the phrase ‘Everything happens for good’? We use it more often than we think we do and always to pacify ourselves that we are here because we lacked options. Viktor, in the JFK transit lounge loses the food coupons given to him as an act of mercy by the immigration department, does not know how to use the calling card and on top of all this misery can barely speak or understand English. Until he watches the television, he does not even know why he’s not allowed outside the airport. Now that can be too dramatic to handle. But what I liked was the way opportunity was identified by him. He notices that every time he deposits the baggage trolleys at the trolley station the machine gives him 25cents. Well, an opportunity identified an acted upon!! He finds an occupation on the airport which allows him to eat and keep him busy.

 So we are at the wrong place at the wrong time? Now what do we do about the entire situation. We have two options, either we curse everyone for allowing us to be in that situation or we find an opportunity to grow in that situation? Last week I was interacting with a colleague who is planning a workshop for all employees of our organization on designing a robot. We will learn to make our own robots. The management is contemplating that this will be a waste of time for non-technical people. I am totally a non-technical person; all I would learn in that workshop is to build a robot that runs on my command and does what I want it to do. I will screw its bolts and solder its wires and apply a little mathematics which I have long forgotten. I guess that’s all I will learn…. I will only learn a sense of achievement and a few more things after dirtying my hands with tools.

3.  Doing the right thing in the wrong place: The immigration officers at the JFK airport got so fed up with Viktor since he was able to find a job at the airport that paid and almost made gate 63 of the terminal his home. Since the possibilities of him going back to his country were grim till the civil war continued and they could not allow him on the US soil, they plotted to allow him to escape from the airport so that he becomes someone else’s headache.

 Last week a professional asked me, my boss doesn’t care about making meetings productive or effective. He organizes meetings to waste time. Why should I care about these meetings at all? Well good thought I must say. But if this situation is bothering him and affecting his productivity, then it’s a huge concern for him. But if it doesn’t and his coffee still tastes the way it used to be when he was doing a productive job then he can go ahead and care two hoots. But if our coffee doesn’t smell the same we will do something to make it smell good.

So how do we know that what we are doing is the right thing or not? It’s fairly simple, anything that does not add to our growth and productivity, anything that does not make us a more positive person and anything that does not add positively towards our self-image and self-esteem is not the right thing.

So, are we at the wrong place at the wrong time? Then look at what’s going on at our terminal. Maybe until the wrong timing lasts we will be doing a lot of right things… bringing a change not just to our life but inspiring others too.

Have a great flight and stay productive! 🙂