So I created these great, detailed fantastic goals for Mandarin learning when I moved to Taiwan.
That I utterly failed to achieve.
Time to tuck & roll.
I felt altogether defeated when I reached the end of my 3-week Mandarin challenge. I had specific goals that I had shared oh-so-publicly, and felt like I had learned practically nothing by the end of it, despite studying 2-3 hours per day. I wallowed for a day or so, then pulled up my original goals to carefully go through them and see what went wrong.
And boy was I surprised.
I had completed 70% of the goals I originally set for myself.
WHAT?!? But… but… I suck at Chinese! I hardly learned anything! 70% is not that bad!?!
Had I not taken the time to look carefully at my previous goals again, I would have continued feeling like a failure. Instead, I recovered from my wallow, and jumped back into Chinese learning.
Only to stumble and fail again immediately, and rather more spectacularly.
I accomplished only 40% of my original 10-week goals. I studied 2-3 hours per day for the first month, but only about 1 hour per day for the 2nd month, and I stopped studying completely the final 2-3 weeks.
So… what happened? And why don’t I feel like a failure?
Well, first of all, I’m not going to lie… I am disappointed in the results, and part of me does feel like I failed. Most of me, though, is happy with what I accomplished and how hard I worked and what I did learn. I set my goals extremely high, hoping they would push me to accomplish something meaningful, and it worked.
Finally, what lessons can I take from this?
Lesson 1) Diversify Your Goals
And this focus paid off. Even during the times late in my mission when I spent no dedicated study time, I continued learning and using the knowledge that I had already gained, especially around my Taiwanese friends and with respect to foods and menus.
Lesson 2) Adapt, Adapt, Adapt
Instead, I changed my focus from the spoken language to learning about the culture and food and reading menus, since we went out to eat together so often. This resulted in a rich and meaningful and varied experience for me, even if it wasn’t the one I had envisioned.
Lesson 3) Learn From Your Successes... And Your Failures
Firstly, I learned that I had succeeded far more than I was giving myself credit for. After looking over my goals again, I recognized that I had shifted focus partway through, but had not realized it or taken it into account. Even so, I managed to accomplish a decent chunk of what I originally set out to do.
Secondly, I recognized in detail the parts that I didn’t accomplish. I am now much more aware of exactly where the gaps are, and how and where I did succeed. When I go back to Chinese learning, I will know where to pick up, and how to go about it.
Lesson 4) Make SMART Goals
Without those original goals, I would not have been able to review my progress against those specific metrics, and would have continued feeling frustrated and like I had failed… and wouldn’t have anything to convince myself otherwise. I would have lost much more inertia on studying Chinese and not had the roadmap that I do now, that will allow me to chart a path to success when I start learning Chinese again.
Lesson 5) Be Gentle With Yourself
Instead, I recognized that I had been working hard, learning a lot even though it felt like a tiny drop in the echoingly-empty bucket of my Chinese language skills. I reminded myself that it’s about the journey as much as the destination, and that I wasn’t “in this to win it,” but rather “in this to live it.”
The final couple of weeks, I gave up dedicated studying entirely, as an entirely new life goal swooped in to take up all of my discretionary time and swept my attentions and intentions away. But more on that later.
Failure is inevitable, but that doesn’t mean you should give up… it just teaches you a new way to fail forward.