Overcome Your Fear of Making Mistakes and Achieve Your Goals
by Zak Cohen, Middle School Director at the St. Francis School
Cooking dinner, doing the dishes, and taking out the trash are my core chores around the house. Other tasks and errands invariably find themselves on my Saturday morning to-do list, but dinner, dishes, and trash are my primary responsibilities.
Breaking down boxes and unloading the dishwasher might not be the highlight of my weekend, but I also find that the drudgery of these tasks is easily counteracted by some basic problem-finding and goal setting. This familiar framework is what has led to my noting and improving inefficiencies, including the purchase of a pair of Crocs in order to gain greater traction when pivoting between the sink and the dishwasher. (Don’t believe me? Do your dishes in a pair of Crocs, and thank me later). This quasi-gamification of chores is also what led to my month-long pursuit of the perfect baked ziti recipe. I set a goal to become a T-shaped chef.
As Tom Kelly defines it, a T-shaped person enjoys a breadth of knowledge in many fields, but they also have depth in at least one area of expertise. Whereas my culinary knowledge had long been an inch deep and mile wide, I was now determined to gain a depth of knowledge in one very specific area: baked ziti.
I started by finding an online recipe that had strong reviews. I followed that recipe step-by-step. Seeking depth of expertise without fear or making mistakes, when I brought the tray of baked ziti to my wife, I asked her to take a bite and to tell me what was missing. She shared her thoughts, and it was back to the drawing board.
About one week later, I tried a thicker pasta, a garlic-infused olive oil, and added a hint of rosemary. Once again, I asked my wife to take a bite and to tell me what was missing.
The next day, I shared my wife’s feedback with a friend to see what he might recommend. He suggested I incorporate a Béchamel sauce along with a higher quality ricotta cheese. I took his advice, and once again asked my wife to take a bite and to tell me what was missing. The Béchamel was good, but that wasn’t it.
Over the course of the next couple of weeks, I watched YouTube videos, poured over recipes, and researched different techniques for slicing mozzarella and spacing it on the pan. I incorporated all of this information, and once again asked my wife to take a bite and to tell me what was missing. Much to my relief, she finally said, “Nothing. This is the recipe.”
I am never going to be a great Italian cook. But, this doesn’t mean that I can’t perfect a single Italian dish.
The pursuit of a goal so small allowed me to simplify and demystify the process of attaining it; the pursuit of a goal that required so many attempts liberated me from a fear of making mistakes; the pursuit of achieving the goal so inescapably iterative allowed me to be flexible and responsive, both in time and resources.
When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, nearly all of us set goals, but a whopping 80% of them are not met. Undeterred by this low success rate, many of us will once again set a resolution on January 1st. Rather than engage in the same unsuccessful behaviors that we’ve employed in the past, let’s review a few strategies that will better position us to attain our New Year’s resolution.
1. Be a Triptych
Before you sit down to set your New Year’s resolution, try thinking of yourself as an amalgamation of your past, present, and future selves. By thinking of yourself as a triptych of sorts, you can escape the short-sightedness of the present by considering where you’ve come from, where you are, and where you hope to go. When you do this, goals become more powerful, because they are informed by your past experiences and your future ambitions, in addition to your present reality. For me, baked ziti served as that perfect intersection where my past, present, and future selves met, by factoring in my upbringing in Brooklyn, my day-to-day responsibilities, and my future need for a delicious and easy to make recipe once my wife and I start a family.
2. Remain Focused
In the age of Pinterest and Twitter, it’s easy to look at our feeds and feel that we aren’t doing enough. And, it’s especially easy to let that feeling inform our resolutions. Don’t fall into that trap. Instead of ruminating on the many things that you want to do differently, remain resolute in your focus to achieve your goals. Remind yourself that innovation is iterative. Change is not about big, unwieldy transformations, but small and controllable shifts. Don’t seek to perfect the canon of Italian cuisine; perfect a baked ziti recipe.
3. Possess an “Attitude of Wisdom”
An attitude of wisdom is when you have enough knowledge to sense when you’re on course and enough humility to know when you need help navigating. In my experience, the goal-setting process can be derailed by an overemphasis on articulating every step of the journey before the journey has even begun. Because we know that a journey of 1,000 miles starts with a single step, we want to make sure we know what this step is. After that, we want to remain open, adaptable, and responsive – the first steps for achieving goals will lead you to the second step; the second step will lead you to the third, and so on and so forth. To achieve your goals, you have to be open to new information. When you lay out every step of your plan before the first step has even been taken, you are setting yourself up for failure. When seeking to perfect the baked ziti recipe, all I knew was that I’d start by searching for a recipe online. Every step after that came about organically in response to feedback. Achieving your goals is rarely the result of having it all figured out in advance; oftentimes, it’s just about knowing how you’re going to start and remaining open to new learning from there.
January 1st, 2022 is as good a time as any to think about what you want to accomplish in the coming year. What can you do to ensure that you are part of the 20% of people who actually attain their New Year’s resolution?
If you’re looking for ways to bring your goals to life in 2022, The Core Collaborative can provide you with the resources and services to do just that. Carrie Rosebrock and Sarah Henry can help you to realize your vision by aligning your goals to that of your school and your community. To learn more about how the authors of Arrows can transform your work, contact us here.
Meet the Author
Zak Cohen is the Middle School Director at the St. Francis School in Louisville, Kentucky. He has taught Social Studies, Language Arts, and English as a Second Language in independent and international schools in the United States, China, and South Africa. He is currently a doctoral candidate in Educational Leadership and Management at Drexel University.