For those of you who frequent my blog, you’ve learned a bit about me. If you browse the web, you will likely find many biographies about me from speaking engagements, my full CV, as well as quite a bit of professional information on sites like LinkedIn. Now I want to share what you don’t see on those sites…what someone once called (I think I first heard it from John Maxwell) an unresume. I did this in 2015 as well. I found it rather helpful, so I thought I would make it a tradition, hopefully offering some important lessons for the readers as well.
While I’m sure that there is danger in dwelling on our failures and disappointments too much, they are just too valuable to waste. Each failure, missed opportunity, and unaccomplished goal has the potential to be a teacher. I am a firm believer that failure is a powerful teacher. I also appreciate when people are vulnerable enough to share some of the less than flattering parts of their life, work and learning journey because it helps me to see that this is a natural and often important part of how we grow. Pathways to success are quite often not without mistakes or even failures. As such, here is my second unresume. This time, I’ve decided to include it through 16+ failures represented in a quantifiable format even though some of the numbers are guesses or estimates.
173 – The number of incomplete blog post drafts.
Yes, I’ve written close to a thousand articles on this blog over the years. What you might not know is that I have close to 75 that are partly written and unpublished. Many of them will probably never be published for one reason or another. Beyond that, I’ve started and deleted several hundred other articles that just didn’t make the cut. From one perspective, they were failed essays. From another perspective, they each helped me think through something or to at least reflect on what I do and don’t want to say.
5000+ – The number of typos in the articles that I’ve written on this blog (including those in this article).
I put the disclaimer about typos on my “about” page. What you get on my blog is often emerging and rough draft thinking. Quite often I’m giving you a glimpse into my mind as I work through some new or existing strand of thought. I’ve received a few critiques about that over the years. Is it really respectable for an academic, even a University administrator, to write with such candor and limited attention to grammar and syntax? I’m okay with it, but I know that isn’t the only opinion on the matter.
32 – The number of unwritten books.
I’m delighted that, at the time of writing this post/article, I have two published book (one a single author book and the other an edited work), and a third book coming out in the upcoming months. I also have two other books that I hope to publish by the end of 2016. Yet, what you might not know is that I have a long list of unwritten books from the last two decades. I just didn’t take the time or garner the courage to see them through…at least not yet.
8 – The number of incomplete degrees.
This includes three MBA programs, a MFA, a PhD in Leadership, a MA in world history, a Master of Divinity, and a Master of Arts in Philosophy. All but one of these are admittedly started without a strong commitment to finish. I just wanted to take some classes and have great discussions around important concepts and ideas. Yes, I have four degrees but I failed to complete more than I finished.
$0 – The amount of money earned from 1994 to 2000 in my first consulting business (called Servant Innovations).
I started my first business less than two years after graduating college while I was teaching full-time at a middle and high school. Within a week, I had three clients…all non-profits. My “company” focused upon helping these organizations establish a digital presence and devise a strategy to leverage that presence to achieve their organizational goals. I believed in their causes so much that I did the work for free. Then came the next client…and the next. Before I knew it, I had a “business” for six years that served many organizations and never made a single dollar…at least not directly. It did, however, set the stage for later work and consisted of incredible lessons about organizational culture, strategy, and much more.
0$ – The budget that I proposed for my first effort in the 1990s to launch an online high school.
I started exploring the possibility of online learning in secondary education back in the 1990s, interviewing some of the early school leaders at places like CyberSchool and The Babbage School. Then I came up with a program proposal and plan to launch my own. I pitched it to the school board and, when they asked how much it would cost, I said 0$. That is right. I pitched an entire online school effort and suggested that I could do it for no money. I leveraged innovative teachers who volunteered their time and we built a model about which I am still proud today. I would proudly put those courses up to almost any that you see today. In fact, some of the features were well ahead of their time. Yet, the effort failed because you can’t run such a program without a budget or a viable financial model. Somehow that didn’t occur to me at the time. Over the next decade, I used this lesson to build a better understanding of financial planning. As some of my colleagues like to say, it is hard to have a viable mission without a margin.
0 – The number of languages in which I am fluent (other than English).
I studied German, Greek and Hebrew in high school and college. I dabbled in Spanish and French over the years. Yet, to this day I never put in the time and persistent effort to become fluent with any of these.
0 / 7 – The number of times that I qualified for the Boston Marathon compared to the number of marathons completed.
I started running when I was a candidate for an FBI position years ago and needed to get back in shape for the fitness portion of the associated testing. When that position was off the table, I just kept running. After a few months, I decided to set a few goals like completing a 5K, then 10k, then half marathon, and a year later, the Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon. I went on to run that a couple more years, adding to it marathons in Chicago and Green Bay, Wisconsin. Then I decided to set the goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon, but I finished my last marathon about nine years ago, missing the qualifying time by seven minutes. From there I ran into a few temporary health issues and backed off on the marathon running altogether. As such, I never achieved that goal.
4 – The number of incredible opportunities that I missed out on because of indecision.
I can’t go into detail with these, but suffice it to say that, in retrospect, I messed up. I had four potentially once-in-a-lifetime offers at four different times and I grappled with whether I was ready for them. I didn’t make a decision fast enough and missed the window of opportunity. I admit that I sometimes experience a hint of regret over a couple of them, but I also take pride in the fact that I hesitated because of my core values and convictions. In the end, I learned a lesson about myself. I’m fueled by meaning, mission and core values. If I don’t have clarity about how an opportunity fits with my personal sense of mission and my core values, I struggle and usually pass. Yet, in retrospect, some of those opportunities could actually fit very well with my personal mission and values, but I couldn’t see that at the time.
7 – The number of missed dunk attempts in games during high school and college.
I played basketball in high school and college. I could dunk since eighth grade. I often joked (but I was really serious) that God gave me the ability to jump because he felt sorry for my limited range and lousy shot. Dunking was the only way that I could get the ball through the hoop. Somehow a group of people were fooled enough to make me honorable mention all-state for high school in Illinois and a few colleges offered me a spot on their teams. Yet, apart from a handful of end of game moments, my most vivid memories are seven dunks that I missed in games. Some where glorious visions of a ball hitting the back of the rim and flying to the other side of the court. In another, I hit the front of the rim and landed on my back. I divide these fails into two categories: hubris and not committing. With some there was no need at all for me to attempt that particular type of dunk. I was show-boating and learned my lesson the hard way. Others, I believe, came about because I did not commit. I got hesitant or held something back. Both offer me important life lessons.
6 – The number of terrible workplace decisions that still embarrass and humble me when I remember them from the last 20+ years.
I’m sure that I made many more bad decisions over the years, but as I prepared to write this, six are especially vivid. They all have this in common. I failed a person in a way that conflicted with a personal core value. Each of these have become formative lessons and cautionary tales in my leadership.
1000+ – The number of books that I started but did not finish.
Many know that I read about a book a week…although I’ve slowed a bit in the last few months. That sounds like quite a bit of reading to many people. Let me give you the other side. I also have a ton of books that I started but never finished. Sometimes I was not ready for the book. It was too advance for me at the time. Sometimes I just lost interest. Other times I just got distracted by a better book and never got back to it. I have one book that I’ve checked out of the library close to ten times and still haven’t finished it. In some ways, I don’t feel too badly about this. Not finishing a book that is not useful or for which I’m not ready is sometimes the right decision.
6 – The number of book queries rejected by publishers.
I’m sure that this number will continue to grow, but since I only started submitting queries in the last year, this number is pretty small. Those rejection letters are wonderfully humbling, but I’ve learned something from every one.
300+ – The number of unfinished ideas and projects over the past twenty years.
I have lots of ideas. I sometimes take on more than I can finish. I’ve learned the power of prioritizing and focusing on a few items, but even with that, I have a massive list of unfinished projects over the last 20+ years. I’m grateful for the many projects that I’ve completed, but there are countless other projects that never got off the ground. Part of me is okay with this. Many of those unfinished projected were infused in other efforts or helped inspire projects that did get off the ground.
12 – The number of domains purchased but unused.
Each domain represents one or more of the project that I listed on the last one. They just sit there waiting to see if I might resurrect one of them at the right now. I just can’t seem to let the registration expire just in case…
25ish / 70+ – The number of jobs for which I got rejected compared to the number for which I applied from 1994 to 2005
I think that I’ve written about this before, but early out of college, I used to love applying for jobs. I loved the application and interview process, and it was an incredible opportunity to learn about different organizations. I didn’t want to waste people’s time so I was candid about how I was not sure that I wanted to leave my current job. Yet, I just kept applying. In one year I went through almost thirty interviews for incredibly diverse jobs and organizations. Over time I get pretty good at writing cover letters and crafting resumes that matched the job. I went into interviews (especially those in board rooms with 4 or more people) with excitement more than nervousness. I got quite a few job offers out of this, almost none of which I accepted. Yet, the other important part is that I was not chosen almost as much as I was chosen. Sometimes the reason was quite obvious because I was not remotely qualified at the time, but there is something humbling and centering about being told that you don’t cut it or that they found a better fit. These were formative experiences in my ideas around mission-minded innovation and what I write about calling. The experiences affirmed for me that we each have unique life journeys and callings.
28 – The number of typos that I found in my doctoral dissertation after it was accepted, I graduated, and it was published.
That is right. I even hired an editor to help me fix typos beforehand. The most embarrassing part for me is that my first typo is before the page numbers even begin, on the dedication page. I have an embarrassing double negative right there on the dedication page for all to read, and by all I mean the handful of people who might find my dissertation at the Northern Illinois University Library. That brings me to the next one.
100+ The number of times that I’ve dreamed of or imagined sneaking into the Northern Illinois University library and stealing the existing copies of my doctoral dissertation.
Having recognized these errors, I often had dreams of sneaking into the NIU library and stealing the dissertation from the shelves so nobody would ever read it. I’m partly proud of the dissertation but it was out there and in retrospect, not a wise choice for a first piece of publicly available writing. For all practical purposes, it didn’t even fit the formal definition of research. As such, I have these dreams of stealing the dissertation but realizing that the alarm would go off at the door if I tried to take it out of the library. So, in some dreams I throw it out of a library window and retrieve it. In others, I take it to the bathroom, tear out one page at a time, and dispose of everything but the covers by flushing it down the toilet. I put the rest under a bunch of paper towels in the trash can and make my escape.
7,984 – The number of days in which I’ve questioned my ability or competence to complete a task since graduating from college.
If you do the math, that is one for each day since I graduated from college. I’m proud of some of the work accomplished over the years, some individually and other work as part of a team. I love writing and working to promote positive change in education. I love challenging myself and others to more broadly consider the possibilities in education, analyzing affordances and limitations, etc. Yet, I openly confess to having more than my share of doubts and moments of insecurity along the way. I’m keenly aware that I have much to learn, that I have ample flaws, and that I have a long list of failures in my past. Yet, years ago I decided that I would choose to learn from these and that I would do my best to avoid letting them prevent me from using what I’ve been given to pursue good and important work in the world. A little story called the Parable of the Talents reminds me of the better way.