by Joanne Hutchinson

It was that time of the year.  Exam results were out.  I remembered the day when they were delivered in the mail and we anxiously awaited their arrival.  We had a long driveway, so it was an errand running up and down, triple checking the letterbox for that 1 letter.

I had studied hard and I believed, worked hard.  But there was that lingering doubt – was it enough?  Had I done enough?  What would the result be?

The day came.  The envelope arrived.  The official looking letter with my name on it.  Yes, this was the letter I had been waiting for.  I recall holding the envelope and feeling a mix of anticipation and trepidation in that moment.

I ran up the drive wanting to open it and not open it.  I got to my room and sat down.

With a deep breath, I opened it.  The paper slid out.

There it was in black and white.


A mix of the alphabet A’, B’s and C’s stared me in the face. No D’s, E’s or F’s.

I was happy with some and upset with others. I thought I had done better.

Disbelief and disappointment sunk in.  It felt more like failure than success, as if my life depended on these gradings.

Now here we are in 2018.  It was my daughters time, anxiously awaiting her exam results, this time by email.  The grading system was different, but the feelings were the same.  Happy with some and disappointed with others.  The sinking feeling of disillusionment, as if our life depended on it, as if who we are is defined by an academic grade.

Exam results had left a feeling of failure in the air.  She didn’t want to talk about it.

I went to bed perturbed.  I woke up in the middle of the night and wrote a message to help her gain perspective and ideally inspire her.  In the morning I decided to use the technology that she lives and breathes, recording it in Messenger and I sent it to her.

It was 1-minute long.

She gasped.

Why would my mother send me a 1-minute voice recording?  It must be important!

It was (in my opinion) full of wisdom.  The essence of it was to put the grade in perspective of life and to learn to ‘fail forward’ – we have an intention, we take an action and we get a result.  From that result, we learn something and then set a new intention, take a different action and achieve a result.  It’s only through the reflection that we see the golden nugget and try something different.  We always have the power to choose what meaning we give to things and to create different outcomes.

Unless we embrace the ‘failure’, we do not get its gift.  A grade does not define who we are or what we are capable of, yet we live in a world where meaning is sometimes derived from measures like academic success.

As 2018 was unfolding, it gave rise to some personal reflection time.  The classic questions of what went well, what didn’t, what I’d do differently, what were the greatest achievements and so on.  I got thinking to how easy it is to celebrate success yet linger on disappointments or ‘failure’ that can undermine confidence, self-esteem and self- belief.

Then I got thinking about business and the appetite for failures.  Most business crave innovation and creative thinking, yet to embrace these characteristics, we equally must embrace its opposite – failure or when things didn’t go to plan.  And learn from them, accepting a growth mind-set.

Failure is just a word that we have ascribed either a positive or negative meaning to.  Maybe its time to change the definition or our mindset and recognise that failure is a stepping stone and pathway to success, that is of course if we chose to learn and grow from it.

I love the term ‘fail forward’ where we use failure to learn something and then try again and see what we learn this time.  If we want to get great at something we must be like the athlete and embrace a learning mind-set.  Children do this naturally.

Carol Dweck, a Stanford University Professor of Psychology undertook some ground-breaking research to help us understand fixed and growth mindsets.  In her work, she advocates that talent on its own is not enough.  We need to be as I call it ‘polishing the diamond’, actively developing our talents and abilities, having the resilience to overcome setbacks, to persevere and having a willingness to explore the unknown.

Here’s one of her articles in HBR

A growth mindset encourages us to be our best self, eager to grow and expand, actively requesting feedback on what we can do better so that we see every situation as providing us with an opportunity for growth.

My Dad used to say ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’.  He was right.  He had a fixed mind-set, and this is what he believed.  It’s just that it’s not what I believed so he was a great teacher in that way, providing the contrast to see things in a different light.

There’s something incredibly refreshing about trying new things don’t you think? It has nothing to do with age and everything to do with mind-set.

So, my two tips to takeaway are:

  1. ‘fail forward’ and embrace the
  2. ‘growth mindset’ to realize more of your true potential.

Here’s to your continued growth,


Coming Up – In Development

  • 1 Day In-Visioning Workshop on Waiheke Island March 2018 – create the space to create more of what you want in your life and work.
  • 3 Day Weekend Retreat to Ahipara April 2018 – a journey for the spirit to re-ignite your inner passion and purpose.

Email me for more information

Contact Details:

Joanne Hutchinson

Founder Great Spirit NZ Ltd

Heart Centred Leadership


m. 027 414 4291

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