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Making Mistakes (or Pastries) in Times of Scarcity

By Trina Adler, Program Leader — Health and Nutrition

June Cleaver I am not.

I love to cook and bake, but I rarely have time to do so. I often leave the house for work at 5 a.m. and don’t return until 6 p.m., and can only manage about 2 hours of productive time to put some supper on the table, help with homework, debrief with my kids about their days, and throw a load of laundry in before collapsing in my bed.

When my son asked me recently to make kolache for his class report on the Czech Republic (hoping to earn some extra credit by bringing in this Central European sweet bread), I weighed the scarcity of my time and need for sleep against his pleading eyes. And I stayed up to make the pastries.

The next night, my son came to me with the exact same request.

At first, I was confused, and then when I heard his explanation, I was angry. It turns out his report was postponed for a day, so the kolache went with him to his wrestling practice after school. When the baking pan of pastries was spotted by the ravenous herd of 7th grade wrestlers… well, you can imagine what happened.

I was tempted to blame him for not taking better care to hide the kolache. After all, I had reorganized my priorities to help my son earn extra credit! The story doesn’t end there, but now I want to talk about setting priorities at work and what to do when things don’t go the way we hope.

And now we're fencing.

We are heading into some leaner times in Extension and in the Center for Family Development. We are taking a pause from filling open positions. We’re cutting down on face-to-face meetings that involve travel. We’re examining and prioritizing plans, resources, and programming to invest our resources in the most promising and impactful work.

It may feel like now would be a prudent time to fly under the radar, continue with “tried and true” methods, and, above all, avoid making mistakes. And we all know it’s an easy and common reaction for all of us to resort to blame and finger-pointing when resources become precious. The last thing any of us want is to have the finger pointed at us for taking a risk that went awry, forging ahead with a plan that is poorly received, or finding that what we’re doing is not having the effects that we’d hoped for.

Yet, I would argue that lean times are the very reason we need to practice innovation, take some risks and, yes, even make mistakes!

Why should we think about innovative practice, thoughtful risk-taking, and perhaps some mistake-making during lean times?
  1. Innovative practice can create efficiencies. In the best scenarios, innovation can both generate resources and substantially reduce start-up and ongoing investments.
  2. Innovative practice does not necessarily require an investment of cash or human resources. Rather, innovative practice draws on resources of which there is an almost unlimited supply: opportunities and needs, creativity, partnership, and calculated risks.
  3. Mistakes often result from practicing unfamiliar processes or skills. During times of scarcity, we need to broaden our skill sets to cover bases that may have been covered differently when well-resourced. If we are not developing our skills and abilities, even if that involves making mistakes, we will not be able to effectively keep our programs and initiatives moving forward.
  4. Mistakes provide opportunities to learn. Sometimes mistakes cost us resources. But an opportunity to learn is a good investment!
The only real mistake is thr one from which we learn nothing. - Henry Ford #quote #quotes #comment #comments #TagsForLikes #TFLers #tweegram #quoteoftheday #song #funny #life #instagood #love #photooftheday #igers #instagramhub #tbt #instadaily #true #ins

During the coming months as we adjust to a leaner reality, I encourage us all to:
  • Infuse innovations into program business planning and annual plans of work.
  • Practice new skills and processes, even if we feel unsure and make mistakes.
  • Tolerate mistakes gracefully, and use them to promote learning, growth, and skill development.

Now, back to the kolache.

After my initial shock and frustration over my son’s second request, I struck a deal with him. He did the laundry while I shopped for the kolache ingredients. He stayed by my side through the entire baking process to help, learn how to make the recipe himself (Sophie’s Kolacky, in case you’re interested), and keep me awake. In the end, we both reaped rewards for our efforts: I enjoyed my son’s appreciation, he and I learned to bake a now-favorite treat, and his teacher and classmates loved the kolache.

My late-night adventures in baking also reminded me that trying something new and gracefully tolerating mistakes helps us learn and grow — even in lean times.
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