Monthly Archives: May 2016

If you think “success” means never failing, think again: success includes serial “failures”

If you think “success” means never failing, think again.  Learn from your so-called “failures,” and far from failing, you actually give yourself the power to transform the past into steps on the path to future successes.

What are you battling?  Where are your struggles?  Do you have defined goals?  Are you getting the help you need?  Is the day sometimes just too much to handle?  You might think these are questions to ask someone who is falling apart.  No.  All of these are questions we might ask successful people.

In other words, successful people still struggle, stress, and fail.  Often, they fail repeatedly.  But what makes someone successful is that he or she gets back up after falling down, problem solves and tries again; no falling into the traps of self-doubt.

Why is it so hard?   It may look like other people have it so much easier than you do, like they never fail or stress.  If that’s what it looks like, you may not know the person that well.  You may just be looking at their social media and inferring from the stories they are sharing that all is perfect.  Dig a little deeper.  Everyone who has ventured to achieve falls down from time to time.  Usually, people who think a lot, people who are movers and shakers, have deep concerns.  Some worry about family.  Others about money.  Some stew about co-workers and work politics. Some have health problems.  Others obsess about fitness.

Some measure of worry can be empowering: plan for the worst and hope for the best. Knowing what you will do in worst case scenarios, and knowing you will be OK, can be tremendously empowering.  The key is to use failures and stressing about failures as tools to empower rather than obstacles that weigh you down.  An excellent book that stands the test of time and helps readers control what the author called “worry” and what we might today call “stress,” is How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.

If you are dealing with school stress, professional stress, exam stress, parenting stress, or just battling generally to succeed while achieving peace of mind, give it a read or re-read.

On Not Quitting: Students Look to Athletes for Inspiration

Ask a college or professional ball player what he or she does after a bad game, or a losing season.  Unless the person suffered a serious injury, likely the answer will be:  I went back in and did my very best at the next game. I practiced, and practiced, and practiced more.  I looked at what I did before and found ways to play better, stronger, harder, and smarter.  As the late John Wooden put it, “Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.”

Students, whether in high school, college, or graduate school, can take a page out of this sports book.  When your grades are not what you know they could be or your scores on the SAT, LSAT, MCAT, or other standardized tests are not as high as you know that they could be, figure out a new game plan.  (Same strategy if you fail the bar exam, get back in the game!)

Don’t quit and don’t wallow in frustration or self doubt. Channel your energy into effective practice.  Read more.  Take practice exams.  Talk with professors who can help you see how to learn what you need to know.  Find ways to study better, stronger, harder, and smarter. Another John Wooden reflection, “Don’t measure yourself by what you have accomplished, but by what you should have accomplished with your ability.”

There is an analogy between high stakes exams and high stakes sports competitions.  Let us as students and educators, learn from great sports lessons.  And, let us soar to success with hard, smart work.  A third and final Wooden quote for the day: “Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”

Turn “set backs” into leaps forward: what did you want last semester that you did not get. Seize it now!

Today I blogged for readers who just found out that they failed the bar exam. The same sad, angry, and frustrated feelings occur when we experience other kinds of “set back” and the same opportunities to learn from the past and succeed going forward present themselves. Seize them!

  • Did you get lower grades than you wanted this year?   Get on a mission to figure out how to get better grades going forward.  Talk to professors, classmates who did well, review your old exams.  Figure out what you did and did not do and how to change your patterns to achieve better results next time.
  • Did you not get a job or internship you wanted?   Ask people on the hiring committee very politely if you could have just a few minutes of their time to find out how you can improve your resume, cover letter, or interviewing presence.  Find out what they were looking for and see how that differs from what you gave them.  Talk with experts in your career services center.  Show them your resume.  And, begin applying for other jobs implementing some of the new strategies you are learning.  
  • Did not get on that fitness routine you promised yourself?  Problem solve.  Figure out what stopped you.  Did you just not make time?  Calendar time to exercise as if it were a date with the person you want to see more than anyone on the planet, or as if it were an appointment with a specialist that you waited months to see.  Or did you expect too much, do too much at first and feel sore and defeated?  Start slowly. Just find time for a short walk today.  Then, build up to a longer more robust routine.
  • Did not get to dabble in online learning tools. Perhaps you are a professor and just finished a great semester where you taught many wonderful things but did not get to the learning you had been wanting to do about online tools you have heard might supplement your teaching in new and innovative ways.  Make this summer your time to learn a bit about distance learning, and how today’s students learn best.

So, if you are a law student, read this post as is.  But if you are not a law student, substitute the words “failed bar exam” for any other “set back” you recently experienced and problem solve about turning that into a powerful step forward in the future.  The same sorts of struggles and potential triumphs will most likely apply in some important ways to you.
Failed the bar exam? Re-frame this “set back” as an empowering opportunity to learn to succeed going forward.)

Bottom line, we all know the phrase turning “lemons into lemonade,” let’s try today to turn last year’s “set backs” into leaps forward for next year!

Organize and Outline Before Writing

Organize and Outline Before Writing

Organize and Outline Before Writing

Here’s an example of why it helps to organize and outline.  Version A below shows how you might “tell” a friend about your dinner, bouncing from appetizer to dessert then back to main course, throwing in a random note about the server, the company, etc. But if you are writing an exam or a paper to turn in to a professor, Version B is better. The clear organization of Version B shows the reader exactly where your thoughts are starting, heading, and concluding.  The words, “The company was great, the food delicious, and the service superb” tell the grader/reader to expect that you will first discuss the company, then the food, and then the service.  They know what to expect; you deliver.  And, notice the difference in slang and tone in A versus B.  Try hard to use a more professional writing tone when writing for school than you would, for example, when texting with friends.

Most of us do not “talk” like Version B.  So, we have to take extra time before writing, to plot out (brainstorm about) everything we want to say, put it into a logical order (outline), then write using your outline as your “road map.”

Practice with topics you like and are comfortable talking about, such as food, and see if you can transfer the organizational process to writing for your courses and/or exams.

 

Version A

We ate at Chic.  It was so good!  Steak was awesome.  It should get a Michelin star. Waiter was so cool, nicest dude ever, came back after every course asking how we were. He killed it.  Chic is new restaurant.  My soup was yummy.  The strawberry shortcake rocked. Fresh tomatoes from vine and strawberries like they were picked just before dessert.  Oh, the bread on the soup, actually on the side of the soup –appetizer was a soup and grilled cheese combo thing. That bread was freshly baked deliciousness. Waiter brought soup out in a kick-ass ceramic bowl and told us all about the origins of every food on the table.  Steak was perfectly cooked, served on a cedar plank.  Bill is doing well.  So are Susie and John.  We all picked up right where we left off.  I used to work with them every day and haven’t seen them for ages, but we still have so much in common.

Version B

I went with Susie, Bill, and John to Chic Restaurant last Tuesday.  We had a wonderful evening.  The company was great, the food delicious, and the service superb.

The company: Susie, Bill, and John

Susie, Bill, and John are former co-workers. They are each funny and bright.  We used to work side-by-side every day, and it was heart-warming to catch up with them and realize we still had so much in common.

The food: stylish comfort cuisine

This new restaurant served “comfort foods” in truly a chic manner.  (They earned their name as Chic Restaurant.)  For my appetizer I ordered a mouthwatering tomato bisque garnished with rustic grilled cheese.  It was presented in beautiful ceramic dishes with a garnish of fresh herbs. The cheese, a sharp cheddar, was perfectly melted in between two slices of a right-out-of-the-oven sourdough delight.  That bread was amazing.  It reminded me of the safety and security of Mom’s after school snacks with the exquisite flavors of gourmet bread, cheese, and vine-ripened tomatoes. My main course was a perfectly cooked and seasoned steak, served on a cedar plank.  And, my dessert was an outrageously whipped cream covered strawberry shortcake.  I shared it, but could have eaten the whole thing myself it was so tasty.

The service: 5 Stars

The fellow who waited on our table, it seemed, knew every item on the menu. He not only described in detail how every dish was prepared but told us the origins of all the ingredients, where the produce was grown, where the meats were raised, and more. He made us feel welcome, and continued to be attentive throughout our entire meal. The graciousness and knowledge of the server helped make the entire dining experience a truly lovely one.

I am not sure what the newspaper reviews of Chic Restaurant will look like, but in my book it should definitely get a Michelin star.

Prioritizing Time during Finals

You have one final on Monday, another on Thursday and then two the following week.  Oh, and in between you have a paper to finish, you have to pack to move back home for the summer, and a bunch of other commitments.  What to do first?  Do you ever feel paralyzed??   This is perfectly normal.  Finals are stressful, and tough!  No one can tell you exactly what to do when for success, but here are some thoughts and strategies to help you make an effective game plan:

  • First, and perhaps counterintuitive, get enough sleep, exercise, and good healthy food in you to sustain “high gear” concentration during final exams.  Your instinct may be exactly the opposite: burn the midnight oil.  But, to work super efficiently, many of us need the sleep, sustenance, and energy producer that is exercise.  (Working out also burns off stress that distracts us.)
  • Next, during all of finals period, reduce (try to eliminate) distractions including social media, people who are not supportive, and any commitments you can put off until after exams. Put your phone away altogether while you study for a final exam.  (This may be something you have never done, but trust me when I say you will learn more when you are not checking social media sites every few minutes.)
  • Then, consider which subjects are more difficult for you.  Study subjects that you find most challenging when you are most awake and alert.  Work on subjects that come more easily when you are “taking a study break” from a more difficult subject, or when you are not quite at your peak performance times.  (Let’s say you are a morning person. Study the toughest subject when you first wake up.  Tackle one that is easier later in the after or evening.)
  • Try to get a sense of how much time each task will take.  If you have a paper to write and it’s a 15-20 page paper, you will likely need much more time than if it’s a 5-7 page paper.  Obvious point, I know, but many students leave only a relatively short amount of time for any paper, regardless of its length or complexity, and then get frustrated with themselves when it is hard to “knock out” quickly.  (Note: I say “likely” in the previous sentence because sometimes it is not the length of a paper that makes it difficult to write, but rather how much you like or are interested in the subject, how easy it is to find references if it is a research paper or some other factor.  To effectively estimate how much time a paper will take, think about those types of concerns and how much time a previous, similar task took you to complete.)
  • Study generally, and particularly for difficult subject,  in long enough blocks to really learn well, and retain information.  You may need to read a concept several times to master it. You might need even longer if you need to memorize something.  I know the trend is to spend just minutes on something before changing thoughts.  Our brains are used to clicking on a new link every few minutes, if not every few seconds.  But for college, graduate school, or law school, you may need more focus than for reading a typical blog.  Expect to spend more time initially on concepts so that you can learn them more thoroughly.
  • Be in one subject at a time.  Do not study for your first exam while worrying about the others.  But all the “worry” in a box, and forget about everything else while studying each  particular subject.  Resist the temptation to let you mind wander.
  • Carefully review any instructions, hints, or other information your professor has given you about the exam.  Know the format.  Know how much the exam is worth, and if it will be broken into components, how much each component is worth. This can help enormously in strategizing about how to allocate your time and energy, and knowing what to focus on, during your preparation before the exam and on the exam itself.
  • Take practice tests.  See if your professor or another professor teaching the subject of your class has any old finals on file anywhere and study them.  This will help you master the material in the subject but also the form of testing that your professor will use.
  • Take a break after each exam, even if it’s a meal and a walk, but do something to make a physical demarcation between the end of one exam, and getting ready for your next exam. This will help you mentally shift focus.

These are a few strategies for success.  Write in and share your favorite exam time tips!!