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The Fast Track Past A Failed Project: 5 Steps

The Fast Track Past A Failed Project: 5 Steps

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    I’ve been working on a pretty big project — a book — for going on eight months. This week, I got word that the project had been scrapped, at least as far as the publisher was concerned. It was a pretty big let down for me: we were only about two months away from the end of the project. Since I’ve gotten word, I’ve been working through everything from shock at the news to anger at some of the other people involved. When you’re emotionally attached to a project — which can happen just because of the sheer amount of time you’ve been working on something — hearing about its cancellation can take it out of you. You get knocked down; it’s important to get back up again and keep moving forward.

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    1. Find Out The Whys

    It’s not unusual to be shocked, or even have a little bit of denial, when something happens to a project you’ve worked hard on. In many cases, you’ll probably get advice to just move on and get past it — but there are plenty of reasons to actually find out a little more about the circumstances. At the bare minimum, you’ll want to be able to avoid similar issues in the future. Such information can make the situation a little more painful in the short run, but I’ve found that if I know what happened, I get a little more closure with the whole situation. Don’t assign blame, though: even when one person was clearly at fault, you’ve got better things to do than focus on that.

    2. Resolve and Repurpose The Project

    Just because you’ve received word that a project has gotten axed doesn’t mean that you simply walk away from it. Assuming that you’re a principal in the project — that you have control over the information and resources of the project — you may be able to reuse at least certain elements of the project towards your future efforts. If you’re lucky, you may even be able to turn around and repackage the project for another client entirely. If you don’t control the project, you’ll still need to shut down the project, box up files and so on. Even if it seems like there’s no point to doing so, it’s worthwhile so that if you can restart the project or reuse a part of it sometime down the road, you can do so easily.

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    3. Profit From Your Time

    If the project really did go very wrong, you may find that your expected payment isn’t forthcoming. That sort of situation makes it particularly important to repurpose your work. However, there are certain ways to profit from your experience on a given project, despite an unfortunate ending. You can update your resume or portfolio in light of what you work you’ve done, take a look at how the project has expanded your network and even wind up with the leftover resources from the project. Taking a look at these opportunities can be a way to keep your mind on the bright side when thinking about what happened. You should expand on what you have, if possible. Maybe you can pick up a letter of reference or get an introduction for another project.

    4. Check Your Reputation

    You may not be able to come out of a failed project smelling like roses. Depending on the environment you work in, a big cancellation may become part of your reputation. With the number of people looking out for themselves in some industries, there may be a few people that decide to cover their out responsibilities by placing the blame on you. Complaining or justifying your actions won’t really help in such a situation. The best option is generally to find opportunities to prove such rumors wrong. Even if you aren’t going to start looking for a big project immediately, taking care of small projects or tasks well can go a long way towards reminding people of your skills and willingness to work hard.

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    5. Gear Up For The Next Project

    No matter how big this project was, it’s unlikely that it’ll be your last project of all time. Instead, you’ve got plenty more to look forward to both in your professional and personal life. You may as well start getting ready for the next one: that can include going out and finding another project. Even if you don’t take on another big project for your work immediately, it may be worth actually seeking out something — it’s just like getting back on the horse after a fall. Taking on a big even at your church or planning a new project around one of your hobbies can help you get past a disappointment, but there’s not a limit on the types of projects that can help you get back into your groove. In fact, deviating from the normal types of projects you find can help you move past a less-than-ideal situation much faster.

    Sometimes you can find yourself in the middle of a disappointing project — one that simply gets canceled. Even projects that look pretty good from your view point can get cut. But that doesn’t mean you have to let the situation turn into your personal bridge to nowhere. No matter how much time, effort or even emotion you have invested in the project, take the steps necessary to move on and move towards better and lasting projects.

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    Last Updated on August 20, 2019

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard. Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

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    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

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    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

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    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

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    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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