When You Learn from Your Mistakes
by Jamie Spannhake
October 13, 2021
The panel discussion went really well. The moderator was well-prepared and asked excellent questions, and my co-panelist was truly impressive in her knowledge and insight.
When we discuss burnout with attorneys, as with any professionals, it often centers on boundaries, self-care, and realistic expectations.
The last question asked by one of the attendees "hit the nail on the head" of the problem. By way of real-life scenario, she asked how to handle a supervisor who has unreasonable expectations. We shared lots of great advice for boundary-setting, communication, and seeking support.
But as I thought about it later, I realized that while we answered the attorney's question, it was the wrong question. The right question was how to help the senior attorney have reasonable expectations. This is when I realized my mistake.
Normally, I meditate before I speak on a panel or give a presentation. This allows me to think more clearly before I answer a question, and to see the question underneath the question. But I didn't meditate.
Usually, I review lots of information about the topic, including my own, before I will be speaking to others. But I was pressed for time, so I prepared less than usual. This is a topic that I know a fair bit about, so I wasn't unprepared, but I hadn't taken the time to really get into the head space of the discussion prior to having the discussion.
Lastly, I know from experience that when I am faced with what feels like a question without a good answer, it means it's not the right question. It also means I need to reframe the question into the right question and then answer it.
I didn't do any of these three things.
What can you learn from mistakes? Here's what I learned.
1. Meditation is key to calming my energy so I can think more clearly and be truly present. Without it, I was thinking too much about whether my answers and the discussion were helpful to the attendees. Meditation helps me remember that when I am present and focused on listening and responding thoughtfully, the discussion is always helpful.
2. Being in the right head space at the beginning of the discussion helps me avoid those moments of "I wish I had said that instead." When I am in the details of the topic before the discussion begins, I have those helpful responses during the conversation rather than after it.
3. An impossible question cannot be answered. In this discussion, the attorney was essentially asking us how to meet impossible expectations. They are impossible, so they cannot be met. That's what made it the wrong question. The question to answer was really how to help the senior attorney, not the junior attorney. It was a question about responsibility, and the responsibility didn't lie with the junior employee. Of course, we needed to give her tools, which we did. But it would have been more helpful to affirm that it was an unfair situation at the outset, and also give her tools to help avoid that as well.
“By seeking and blundering we learn.”
― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe