March 12, 2023

Week 10 2023

  • design
  • discovery
  • encouragement
  • endings
  • failure
  • projects
  • work

I am taking two doses of my own medicine in this week’s reflection.

One of the reasons I write these reflections every week is to understand better what I ask of my students for my Weekly Reflections assignments. I want to “practice what I preach” or PIMWIMI (Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is). If you ever want to chat, I’ll tell you what currency tastes like. I’m still picking it out of my teeth.

Failure is a topic I’ve written about and researched. Failure is an inevitable part of any creative process where iteration is involved. It’s a process where we create something, implement it, test it, gain new insights, and then make revisions. Sometimes the process ends in a successful product. Sometimes the whole thing is a wash, and a new direction is warranted. But no matter what, you learn something from the process. New knowledge is generated. Discovery!

Something I’ve worked on for years with several talented people is ending. It’s a disappointment. It’s hard for me. But in a very PIMWIMI way, I’m gaining insights into failure. Here’s what I’m learning about closing a project.

Perhaps you accomplished the purpose of that thing you made.

Few people plan how it will end when launching an initiative—they imagine it will go on forever. What fun is it to make something, knowing it will someday end? Businesses end. Projects conclude. But the ending doesn’t mean an initiative is a failure—perhaps it accomplished its purpose. Maybe it did what it was designed to do for the time it existed. That’s the definition of success, not failure. When concluding an initiative, reframe your thinking and consider what the project achieved. Maybe it was a success, and its end is casting a shadow of “failure.” Shadows go away when the direction of the light changes. Move the light source. Turn on more lights. You may see that success is right in front of you.

That thing you made changed you and changed others like nothing else could.

Though an initiative is ending, don’t forget it made an impact. Perhaps the project changed someone’s life and profoundly altered their trajectory. Because of the initiative, they have new opportunities because of your effort. This quote from The School of Life’s Instagram feed a few weeks ago frames meaningful work so eloquently.

“A so-called ‘meaningful” job is any occupation that leaves us feeling, at the close of the day, that we have somehow either decreased the suffering or increased the satisfaction of another human being.”

The School of Life

Maybe you developed new skills or ways of thinking because of the project. The initiative changed you. The knowledge, thinking, and skills you gained continue after the project ends. Think about it—what did you learn, who did you meet, and what new ways of thinking have you gained because of the effort? If you can do things now that you never could before the project, that’s a success. 

Living is a journey, not a destination.

All things end. We all end (look at that, another of my research areas—I see a trend). Projects, cats, park benches, movie stars, black holes, my children, today, governments, and my straight teeth will all end. You cannot stop it. But you can choose how you experience the journey and how you can improve others’ journeys now and in the future. I’m grappling with the initiative’s ending as if it’s a conclusion when it’s just another step on the trip. Another step will follow. And another. Until I take my last one, I’m learning to be more journey-minded instead of initiative-focused. 

So, I’m walking—and reflecting on endings this week has helped me understand the journey with fresh eyes.

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