Episode Forty Three – On Being Right

I’m beginning to truly regret my recent absence here on the blog. In all honesty, the only reason I’m able to update so frequently these days (by which I mean that I write entries down on paper and then can’t upload them because my home internet connection is messed up) is because things are slow here at work and I’m able to plan my workshops in a couple of days; so I am left with many hours to fill. I’m hoping for more work to keep myself busy with soon, but in the meantime my thinking is that a) if I fulfil all my duties and meet all my deadlines, I’m doing my job; and b) if the participants in my workshop had written what I asked them to last week, I’d have about 7,000 words of Spanish to keep me busy translating. Not my fault nobody listens to me…

Actually, that’s where the topic of this post comes in. (I say that as though it were purely coincidental that my introductory paragraph ended up introducing the theme). I am beginning to learn a lesson which I suspect might be extremely important in my development into a reasonable and well-rounded adult: turns out, inside my brain, being wrong and being right actually feel remarkably similar.

As a clinging-on-to-the-fact-that-I’m-still-technically-if-only-just-a-teenager, I wonder if this is perhaps a coming of age revelation: am I losing that quintessential adolescent arrogance that everyone believes in except adolescents themselves? As a probably unnecessary demonstration, let me share with you a sign which my high-school physics teacher, and the parents of my high-school friend Nigel ‘Iain’ Chalmers, all proudly displayed on their walls.

I wasn't one of the teenagers this was aimed at... was I?

Was/Am I really that teenager? Is it really unavoidable? I usually made my decisions according to my gut, and when I disregarded advice from my elders and wisers, it was usually because inside I had that undeniable feeling – I just knew I was right.

But what I am now coming to realise is that I get that feeling when I’m wrong, too. Many of you will be relieved to know that I’ve made this startling breakthrough – Grant especially, I expect. I’m not promising that I’ll always remember it in the height of a debate, but I am learning, and it’s a start : P

In MUSADE where I volunteer, my duty is to conduct a 12-week training course in marketing for the women who sell their handmade goods in REMOC. I did a bunch of research, got super-informed, wrote a kickass proposal that my boss loved… and then proceeded to conduct three sessions which were essentially two-hour lectures. I thought, I’m doing so great: all my presentations are so informative and make the concepts easy to understand; AND I’ve never done this before, AND my native language isn’t even Spanish. Kudos to me! I had that feeling in my gut that everything was peachy and I was doing a stellar job.

Then I visited Grant in the States, and when I came back I did another one of my usual lectures. It went horribly. The people looked bored, some were chatting to each other, and I kid you not – one lady fell asleep. Ironic as it may seem, her snores were my wake-up call: my workshops were not going so successfully after all. It took me a couple of days to get past feeling indignant and offended at their lack of interest in the face of all my enthusiasm; but by Monday, something changed.

It finally clicked. I love languages, right? It’s my passion, or at least, the closest university-studiable thing I have to a passion (there is no MA in ‘random dabbling in as many crafts as possible’ – I checked). But would I be psyched for a 2-hour lecture on Flaubert or Unamuno? No. I barely showed up to half of my 50-minute lectures, and when I did I spent the whole time checking the clock and willing it to be over. And marketing isn’t even these women’s main interest, it’s merely a means to an end. I had to engage them if I wanted them to see the opportunities I saw.

Something dynamic like a purple card would have done the trick.

The next week, nobody had done the homework I set (hence why I now have nothing to do but write blog posts). I was pissed, but not surprised. I decided to leave my rant about how I wasn’t prepared to work 40-hour weeks preparing these free workshops if they weren’t prepared to spend a couple of hours on the tasks I set. I’d do it next week if my new, dynamic workshop style didn’t get some gears moving. I then proceeded with an ice-breaker of pass the parcel, used the final gift to link in to the theme of the day – ‘product’ – and went on to ask for contributions as to what constitutes a product, what stages of the selling process it affects, how to communicate this to our target client, etc. I split them into groups and gave them all an example of a product. I asked them to list its features and possible uses, and then describe to me their target client. I gave them a break for coffee in the middle of the workshop, rather than the end. And when we were done, I gave them a task for next week and wrote it on the board for them to copy down.

In two hours I’ll be getting started on Workshop 5 – Price. I’m feeling positive that the tasks will have been completed, and that no-one will fall asleep for the second week in a row! Why? Because, with a whole month and a half of the teen age to go, I realised that I don’t know everything, my gut feeling of being right is not always reliable, and that I and only I am responsible for the success of my training program. If the women aren’t interested, I need to be more interesting. And I’m surrounded by people who want to see me succeed – without my good friend Gerardo’s advice I wouldn’t have known what to change to make it work – so all I needed to do was to accept that I’d been going the wrong way, and ask for directions.

So my question is this: is this a coming-of-age revelation? Do you remember realising that that pure knowledge that you were right was, in fact, something of a grindylow leading you to make poor decisions? Or, if you’re still a teen like me (I wonder how many more times before I turn 20 I can keep repeating that I’m ‘still a teen’), do you stick to your gut and refuse to believe that what I’m saying might be a useful lesson for you too? :P

That's me teaching a valuable lesson.

I actually want to hear from you all, so these are not rhetorical questions. Talk to me, even if it is only to say ‘Bullcrap, I do know everything!’ or ‘By George, I think she’s got it!’






Filed under Costa Rica

4 responses to “Episode Forty Three – On Being Right

  1. My entire first year of teaching was one gigantic learning moment that taught me this little nugget: Everything always looks better on paper. Reality is unpredictable and requires constant adjustment. In effect, know your audience and adjust accordingly. :-)

    • Exactly. I was actually just talking to my mum yesterday about all this and she said ‘That’s why people go to teacher training college’. Then she imparted a bunch of wisdom which seems so obvious I was kicking myself for not realising it – but it’s true, just because you know something doesn’t mean you can communicate it to others effectively.

      Thanks for your comment : ) I’m sure you understand why I like it when people leave them :P

  2. Gerard Madill

    Hi Megan,
    Enjoyed your latest post – as always. Very interesting! I think you and I had quite different upbringings, but I think that I was generally wracked with self-doubt as a teenager. That didn’t stop me constantly having run-ins with my Dad. I generally didn’t come off best in these – although that doesn’t mean he was right! And it certainly never stopped me…. I think it was generally my arguments (‘principled stands’ is how I saw them) with my Dad which were the ones when I was convinced I was right and he was wrong. I went to bed hungry quite a lot!

    I used to be incredibly stubborn though, which is not a million miles from what you’re describing – when I was sure I was right, I was SURE I was right. I think I might have been a wee bit older than you when I came to the realisation that being sure you’re right doesn’t actually mean that you are right.

    Sounds like it is a coming-of-age revelation, but that doesn’t mean you’ll always know the difference – I know I don’t!


  3. Colm

    It’s not that I actually think I know everything, but the chances of me being wrong are so tiny that it’s not really worth considering.

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