The freedom to embrace failure! + digital postcard, v1
in which our writer-heroine claims her god-given right to celebrate failure, and iterate on the newsletter model.
Hello my friends!
It’s time for another Friday edition of Megan’s weekly newsletter. I hope you all had an *amazing* week.
This week in Meganland, we learned about a brand new concept for creating newsletters for our friends & followings (fellowings? I prefer friends to followers, at this stage).
Rather than write a whole long thing or get embroiled in an essay, Write of Passage’s hottest new writing club format is called a Digital Postcard.
So this week, I’ll be crafting you my first Digital Postcard of 3 categories of “fun thing,” culled from the stuff I’m already doing and collecting anyway as part of my weekly Life Process, that hopefully will delight or engage you in some manner and allow us to digitally hang.
But before the postcard, it’s time to unveil our results from last week’s Substack newsletter — my first time running a weird-larious (weird+hilarious) “Jump in the Doc” formal newsletter experiment! (ba-dum tss!)
This sweet screenshot shows you the results of my weird idea last week to send you all this doc claiming “The Internet is a Developing Country,” to see if you wanted to engage (yet) with other newsletter subscribers you might not yet know.
25 of you received the email!
21 of you opened it! (That’s 68%! HII!)
24% of you clicked through to the Google Doc!
aaaaand ZERO shame though, 0 of those 5 of you engaged in the doc, apart from me.
My takeaways from this incredibly random experiment:
So often, as people grow, we get “freaked out” about failure or something happening that we didn’t expect, so we feel weird or bad about the results;
I instantly realized I want to (a) wait until Wednesday to look at any newsletter metrics from the following week, and (b) absolutely not make them mean anything at this stage;
I felt a strong, compelling desire to write a bit this week about the **freedom we have to claim failure** and how “the politics of failure” can sometimes make it feel shameful? or brand-incompatible? for leaders or philanthropists, politicians or parents, to say, “Wow! I did a thing! Aaaaand that was not what I expected.” So from the beginning of this fellowship, which I suppose is how I’m thinking about my newsletter right now, I want to just stake the claim out there that In This Space I’m Going To Fail, And I Totally Invite And Encourage You To Get Out There And Fail With Me.
Sometimes in my lived experience, as we grow, our fear of failure can really get the better of us.
Sometimes we don’t know how to ask for feedback, or whether we can afford to run an experiment, because we don’t want to waste our friends’ time, or we don’t know whether we’d be able to live with ourselves (or anyone else) if The Thing We Thought Would Happen in *No Way Happened* and Now We Have To Act Surprised.
I find the best way of dealing with this supposed “failure” this time, is to… well… very naturally, just claim the space and talk about it in this message. Surprisingly, as I write to you all this week, I feel more at home here, now that I’ve allowed myself to feel surprised by my own experiment. I feel like you… went with me on that. I feel like, in some way, you trusted me.
Not because you clicked into the doc, but - strangely - because you… didn’t engage with the doc?
Something surprising about failure is that, if people engage and do what they expected them to, we can gain a lot from that.
But sometimes, our people give us AMAZING gifts by just showing us through their actions “how a thing actually went for them.”
I appreciate your trust in running an absolutely bizarro multi-bullet pointed Google Doc sharing experiment on a topic I did not have enough time to host a mini-conference on.
And you know what? It’s remarkable — I don’t think I’ve ever discovered this personally before, but what I’m learning right in this instant is that an audience or fellowship I can fail in front of, may be an audience I can… grail with. You know, like a noble pursuit or endeavor? An earnest quest? …. anyone?
Suffice to say, what I learned about failure that doesn’t actually harm us, is that - strangely - it can actually make us feel safer. Safer to fail again. Safer to learn again. Safer to try weird stuff again.
And yes, perhaps even safer… to grail again. (Let me know if that’s not going to stick.)
This Week’s Digital Postcard: Episode 001
SO! This leads us to this week’s postcard! Our very first one!
For this postcard, I’ve brainstormed 3 captivating categories of “things I already have lying around in my brain on Fridays,” plus a (bonus) 4th, of what & where I’ve been writing online.
Here we go — give me feedback by reply or in the comments! Ideally this is a fun thing in your week where you can check in & dip your cup into the punch bowl of What Megan’s Been Up To, without having to fight the gCal monsters directly.
The Conversation Of The Week
Every week for the past 3 years I’ve been filling my conversational schedule with the absolute best content I can find, on planet earth. My weekly process involves what I call “long chews” with some of my decadeslong friends and my very favorite humans, almost all of whom are actively practicing antiracism to the extent they’ve been coded as white people, and all of whom are deeply committed to both Working and Living Alive.
In this section, I’m choosing a Conversation of the Week. It’s going to be hard. It’s going to be messy. And like the US employment system, the most meritocratic competitor may, sadly, quite rarely, come out on top. (Wakka wakka!)
This week’s Top Conversation — An “Inside Olin” Zoom talk & afterchat with Jonathan Adler, Benjamin Linder, and Scott Hersey, on the topic of Identity Development through Engineering Education - entitled “Learning and Identity as Exploration, Participation, and Pathways.”
If you’ve not yet heard of Olin College, it’s an experimental engineering college of ~75 students/class in Massachusetts, which admitted its first class in 2002.
Its curriculum contains a ton of emphasis on human-centered design techniques and practice; I love Olin College because I love Lindsay Gordon, but this was my first chance to interact with Olin directly.
Suffice to say - I LOVED these guys.
In this conversation, Jonathan, Benjamin and Scott, three professors of Psychology, Mechanical Engineering, and Chemical/Environmental Engineering respectively, talked through the potential we have as modern-day engineering or creative educators to build classrooms where students engage one another in a process of iterative identity development and maturation as a community of practice, not just a lecture hall of guinea pigs or, as one of my visiting professors in undergrad put it, “A sweatshop of ideas.”
These three framed an identity model that looks at James Marcia’s 2x2 Identity Statuses matrix which looks at the 2 dimensions of Exploration & Commitment as key ingredients for how we form and traverse the world of maturing identity, both as adolescents, and adults.
This was particularly awesome for me as someone who’s been tilting HIGH toward “Exploration” for the last 10 years; I learned that commitment is a key ingredient for achieving a status for our identities in making it potentially more fun, restful, and calm to perform them, and I absolutely love the possibilities of using this model with colleagues and family members who are feeling burnt out (Identity Foreclosure) or stuck/cut off (Identity Diffusion, according to this four-square).
The second epic takeaway from this conversation was a model for Communities of Practice. Distinct from lecture halls or off-track group projects, Communities of Practice are a type of environment we can seek out or create in our classrooms, lives, and learning environments (families, finances, local city/states and work).
The three requirements for a Community of Practice? 1. Community - relationships with the same folks over time, which exhibit mutuality / bidirectionality, i.e. it’s not just one-directional; 2. Domain - some area, field, or context the community operates in (i.e. Grinnell, IA or Air Quality); 3. Practice - an iterative endeavor with some aspect of progression - the answer to the question “what is it we do here” that everyone can frame in the same manner, as with a dentistry office - “We’re practicing dentistry.”
This article *seems* to capture some of the good stuff, but - suffice to say - I am now Unlimitedly Excited about formalizing some kind of concrete Community of Practice that people I love can join, so that I can craft more resources, get back to that higher level of commitment to one community, practice, and space, and give to a group that is interested in sticking together for a longer period of time. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve missed being out of both Stanford and a formalized corporate workplace, and one of the things I am the most passionate to create.
Do either of these topics get you incredibly jazzed? Do you need to tell me way more things than I even just told you about either identity development through engineering education, or the formation of straightforward Communities of Practice as lifelong learning environments, and what kind I should focus on building?
Comment, reply, get at me… I’m here, people. You’re my crew.
Hot Topics / Hot Takes
The second postcard bucket (even though this is now an essay, let’s be honest, not a… conventional postcard) is HOT TOPICS / hot takes.
At Stanford a woman 10 years younger than me (who I loved in class since the second I heard her speak), once asked me, in Estonia, “Megan. What’s… your hottest take?”
If you, like 2019 me, have no idea what a “Hot Take” is, it’s basically a controversial perspective or “spiky point of view” on something you *think* will shock people and may completely alienate them, but - I guess for Gen Z - as long as you flag it as a Hot Take, it sortof softens a bit, because the media is already so absolutely absurdist.
So, this section is for the “Hot Topics” in my conversations that may not necessarily have earned the #1 Convo Of The Week slot, but still came up, and strike me as juicy, dynamic, spicy, hot, controversial, or… potentially confrontational to share out loud, so you can help me find out (a) where my “racy points of view” are actually now totally mainstream, and I can freely share about them without offending anyone or (b) flag me where I Really Should Not Be Saying That Out Loud Based On My Values, because of some context or dimension to the language or conversation that I just am not yet politically savvy online enough to know.
Without further ado, this week’s Hot Topics / Hot Takes, deliberately short & underexplained!
Might “Sampling from obscure sources” be a whole lot like “stealing from strategically less powerful people than you”?
White dudes creating courses, or any course creator with a clear “cultural maturity” blindspot: consider paying your diverse students to give you feedback on where there’s harm being done
“Learning to care about people:” Is it possible? If we taught people NOT to care about others, can we teach them to care (once they’re adults)? Or is it a matter of unlearning? Or is it… too late?
If you’re a cis privileged person investing in companies through your finances or work, what are your commitments to others in your network who report harm, in the way they experience the services you are funding? Is it most important to you to show up in a legally protective way with them? Or as friends first? Or curiously? Or as genuine human beings?
Educators *could* share with our students the communities of practice we join in our own lives, but sometimes they’re political and that can feel like a weird power dimension. On the other hand, if they’re political, won’t they show up through us anyway? Should we err on the side of transparency, then, so that students can at least know what they’re sniffing?
Telling a global group of adults that “the worst thing that can happen when they write online is that no one will read their ideas” is Psychological Safety Pageantry. It risks creating a regressive tax on those who already faced unsafety coming into the course, worsening inequality and gaslighting, and driving deeper and deeper wedges between adult creators and potentially supportive environments.
Unchanged from my college Economics research, reporters of harm (in both fields of sexual violence and workplace discrimination) STILL face regrettable feedback loops and unmodeled social costs to reporting, which are Keeping The Creepers Out There and Keeping The Good Folks Down. We’ve got to rewire this, friends.
1 Messy Sketch From My Desk (big it up)
This is a real sketchy paper prototype for an online web-based product called “ALL-U,” a cohort-based course & online learning paths “planning tool” to help lifelong learners develop themselves into their true aspirational learning selves, by planning their adult learning pathways for the next 3 years (obviously, in a way they can continuously adjust and change).
It’s designed for the experience of folks who LOVE online learning, and love bookmarking online courses to do or content to read, but have a hard time figuring out how to sequence it all without forgetting it - and without suffering from overwhelm.
On ALL-U, online learners can start to envision their future selves as avatars (by year), search for and curate online learning content (either in cohort-based courses or just topic areas they know they want to explore for 6-8 weeks or a quarter at a time), and start to visually build out learning paths for their future that (a) work alongside their work schedule & other life demands, and (b) don’t just set them up to absorb information one time — instead, ALL-U helps learners remember and prioritize their goals to also make and share what they learn through online courses along their journey, then revisit the “best of” their courses in the future — through reminders of the students’ post-course personal takeaways and their personal “Notes From Myself,” written at the end of each course, addressed to their Future Learning Avatar.
This Week, In Writing Online
The biggest thing happening with me online this week is on Twitter!
I am running wacky experiments, tweeting a lot of things, exploring twitter threads, doing my first liking/replying to other people’s tweets, and trying to reply to replies on my own threads, which… I may be doing 100% incorrectly. Sorry about that.
I’ve also received my first DMs, which is weirdmazing, but I’ve also learned that one person felt sad not getting a response from me in the first 24 hours, which is yet another challenge on my lifelong quest to inform everyone ahead of time that I Will Not Be Prioritizing Asynchronous Modes of Communication In This Lifetime, so please be patient, bc interpersonal and innerpersonal presence and deep stillness is both critical for my wellbeing and impossible to sustain in between digital platform pings.
Well friends, that’s a wrap.
This week we failed together, we started to… grail together…, and I feel like we’re forming a fellowship, just me writing to you, right here in these email notes.
We launched the first Digital Postcard in Meganland, I made a paper prototype and shared it, I told you some hot takes to see if they’re absolutely flammable, and I shared with you my Twitter.
Next week? Write of Passage, this wild cohort-based course I’ve been doing these past 5 weeks, comes to an end.
Thanks for being on this journey with me, my friends. If anyone you know needs a dose of this type of Megan in their life, please feel free to share it; alternately, if there’s Something Else You’d Rather See Me Be Writing About, or any feature requests for the Digital Postcard experiment, get at me, this life is a process.