Written By Rich @richreadalot
Does that make sense? Let me explain…
I saw a quote on Twitter recently, posted by a leadership coach:
Failure is an opportunity to begin again more intelligently ~ Henry Ford
And, as I’m sure it was intended to, it made me think about how I could apply this to my own life and career.
I come from a family steeped in Army history and distinguished careers: dad, grandad, great grandad, uncles, cousins – all military. So no surprises: that was my plan too. I had been dreaming about it, talking about it, reading the books about it (of course!). It was all laid out…get A-levels, go to university, then Sandhurst for officer training, 4 or more years’ service, then out and on with civilian life after that (as a teacher).
All was going to plan: I got into University (just – that’s a different blog!) did my 4-year teacher training degree, then my NQT year here on the Isle of Wight. I had been clear with my headteacher from the start -this was a one-year gig to get my NQT qualification before the Army, then maybe a return to teaching afterwards, later in life. I had attended the selection week in Wiltshire, done the interviews and physicals, and she had been brilliant at letting me take time to do these, and stay on a rolling contract until I had a definite intake date.
‘One last game for the team…’ and that was it. Plan derailed: shoulder dislocated in a rugby match. I carried on at school for another year whilst I had physio and eventually two operations to sort out the damage, then returned to the plan! More interviews, another selection event in Spring term, and I got the nod: I had a place and date. January. The plan was back on track.
Life had happened. I’d bought a flat. I’d made friends. I was enjoying teaching. I had a girlfriend and I was reconsidering everything, ever so slightly.
But…THE PLAN! I’d had it so long it was all I could see, and all I thought I wanted, so I carried on. Sold the flat. Resigned from school. Dumped the girlfriend. December, and I had cut ties, ready to start the next stage, when the postman dropped a letter through the door. Army crest on the front…’Probably a list of things to do/bring/not bring!’ I think. But I was not expecting them to tell me not to bother turning up at all! THAT definitely was not the plan! However, it’s what happened, and as they say…best laid plans and all that!
The shoulder had (literally, physically, and now career-wise too) been a sticking point. The background medical checks before I turned up had flagged it up, and despite it not having been a problem on the physical tests in person themselves, on paper it was a fail – before I’d even started.
I hear you say! Life had been Ok – I’ve already said that: friends, an ex- girlfriend who might forgive me, and I was enjoying teaching -just go back to that. The problem was, I’d be going back without having actually been anywhere. In my head, I’d left. I was going to do something different, and teaching was something I would return to later in life – the safe option after the service and adventure I’d hoped the Army might provide. So I couldn’t just carry on. I saw myself as a complete failure. The plan I’d shared with family and friends had not worked out, and I didn’t know what to do, and didn’t want to face them having not done it.
So I did leave. I left everything and with no definite destination in mind, I went travelling. My mum has since admitted that she didn’t think I’d ever come back. I wasn’t sure exactly where I was going, so I’m not sure if was going to either if I’m honest, but that’s a dark road I don’t want to go down.
So what did I do?
After a few weeks licking my wounds and living in a friend’s spare room, I packed up and disappeared. And it was one of the best things that had ever happened to me. ‘THE PLAN’ had been so rigidly set in my mind that I had neglected other things. Sure, I’d had fun – been on holidays with friends and family, but I had done nothing else other than summer jobs and university, then gone straight into teaching. So I took a year ‘out’. It’s now laughingly referred to as my ‘early mid-life crisis’, but it was far from a crisis. It was cathartic.
- Worked as crew for a month on a multi-million pound super-yacht owned by a banker in London, who wanted it sailed around the Med so he could fly in for the odd weekend;
- I worked as a TEFL teacher in Bond street in London;
- Went to lots of concerts (Foo Fighters 2 weeks in a row, anyone?);
- Lived at a fight school in Thailand, training for 3 hours a day at Muay Thai for 3 months (I have never been so fit!), and sparred with a world-champion;
- Qualified as a PADI ‘Rescue Diver’ and nearly died after getting stuck in a shipwreck;
And I decided I wanted to be a teacher again…
I’d got over the idea that I was only doing it because it was all that was left, and was now going back to it because it was a job I wanted to do.
I was very lucky. I’d returned to the Island for the music festival, and having met up with some old friends, heard that my old school needed a maternity leave cover. I applied, and was soon back in familiar territory, with friends and a school I knew, and a job I realised I loved.
I took the desire to lead and turned it to teaching, starting my Aspiring Middle Leader’s course and becoming Lower School leader and English co-ordinator. I found a passion for teaching that previously hadn’t been there, enhanced by the experiences I had gained during my year away.
This blog wasn’t supposed to be an autobiography: there is a deeper and more general point, and that is this: plans are great, but ‘What if…?’. Success is great, but failure happens, often moreso than success on life’s journeys.
I could have let the failure drag me down into depression and despair (and those were there at times, I admit), but if that happened every time we didn’t get our way, life would be pretty grim, and it’s not! Life is great – full of countless opportunities, not just the one you have your heart set on. Yes, it’s good to have a focus and desire, but don’t be blind to other possibilities! The activities and experiences I was fortunate enough to be able to do on that year out have shaped me and stay with me now. They’ve made me better as a person and as a teacher: more experienced, more rounded, more worldly-wise, certainly! And the joyous part – I can share those experiences with my pupils and show them that failure can be a starting point rather than an end…that ‘opportunity to begin again, more intelligently’.
My big fail was a big one – a life decision/path that had to be completely reassessed, but that’s not to say that this approach can’t be filtered down to those everyday events that don’t go to plan. If something doesn’t work, then change it. Move on…try something else…try again after a while, or walk away completely! You might find that that moment of failure has opened a door or shown you a new way of looking at things that an easy success would never have let you have. The ‘intelligently’ part comes not from doing the same thing again more cleverly, but with more realisation and ability to choose what happens going forwards.
Whilst I regret that my ‘plan’ didn’t work out, I look back now afresh and without the raw emotion of the time. I would love to have served, as many of my family did (and my brother, who I’m immensely proud, of still does). But I have what and who I am now…a fantastic wife, two amazing children, an amazing family, a great life and friends, and my job.
I am extremely proud to say I’ve always been a teacher, and ALWAYS will be.
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