Finding time for reflection

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“What’s the biggest mistake you have ever made in your career?”

A big question at any point in life and one that I found myself having to tackle on the hoof just a couple of weeks ago, as part of a café conversation with a group of Birmingham City University students.

It was great to be part of the Common Purpose Frontrunner leadership course as a visit host and a café conversation contributor and both sessions were peppered with tough questions about life, work and learning.

Preparing for the sessions involved some thought on what I wanted to share about my learning from more than 20 years of work, but both conversations prompted an unexpected amount of reflection afterwards.

A great deal of that reflection was around how the world and the industries I have worked in had changed along with my life since I was an eager student. But a chunk of that time was spent on reflection itself.

In a busy, meeting packed and deadline driven job, with a demanding life outside of work (the reality for many of us) where do you build in time for reflectiveness and the learning that it prompts?

How important is it to look back, reflect and learn from our experiences? And rather than dwell on mistakes or failures, which many of us have a tendency to do, is there a positive way to make the most of the learning experience?

Time for reflection forms the backbone of our courses and however packed the day, a slot is always allocated to analyse the experiences of the day from a personal learning perspective.

This time can also incorporate peer review and feedback, equally valuable tools in gaining other people’s perspective on the process.  How each member of the group performed as part of it, what learnings come from it, what changes need to be made and successes to be celebrated.

It’s often the point in the day where the young people taking part see just how far they have come, through their own observations and the feedback given by other people.

It’s something that can and should be built into a classroom or a workplace on a regular basis. It can also be supported on a personal basis through using a learning log – simply recording the experience, initial reactions, what actions you took and what the experience taught you can be a powerful part of the learning process.

Support that with the opportunity to talk through the big, thorny issues with a learning mentor, peer tutor or a trusted friend and reflection become a valuable tool in learning and personal development at any stage of life.

This experiential learning is perfectly summed up by Mike Hughes ‘Trying to learn without reviewing is like trying to fill the bath without putting the plug in.”

It’s something that following my grilling by a crack team of emerging leaders I will be making a diary appointment with myself to do on a more regular basis.

And the answer to the biggest mistake question? Knowing when to say “No thank you” – but that’s a whole other blog.

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