Photo above by Christina Morillo, borrowed from here

We don’t learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.

– John Dewey

We all know what it’s like – the day comes that we thought would never arrive. We give the presentation, we finalise the contract, we pack down the event, we finish the report, we wrap up the committee, we land the final gift, we get offered the job, we open the new wing, we complete the project, we move into the house, we sign on the dotted line.

The thing that’s been taking up most of our headspace slides away into the hazy past and we let it go. The new ‘now’ is finally here.

So often we just breathe a sigh of relief and push the experience away. We don’t want to give this thing any more time than it already got, so we ditch it like a proverbial hot potato and get on with whatever’s next. Whether we’re successful, bumbled through, packed a solid punch, thought to ourselves, “Well, Cs get degrees,” or didn’t achieve what we wanted to, we often just want to move on.

But we’re missing something.

In the work I do, we have six major fundraising events a year, five of which we run in-house. Well… current circumstances have foiled that plan for 2020, but safe to say, we’re used to moving from one event to another. We’ve done a lot to mitigate risk and remove the stress from how these events are set up; no matter how organised we are or how much we prepare for surprises, the workload is still massive and exhausting. We run wonderful events, and it takes a lot of time and energy from the team.

When we wrapped up A Day at the Polo last year, that event had been almost six months in the making. I did not want to spend any more time discussing whether the run sheet was adhered to or what guests had said about the décor or who was likely to come back as a sponsor in 2020 – I did not want to talk about it anymore. I wanted to crawl into my bed and sleep for a week, and then catch up on Billions.

But if I had refused to look back and reflect on what happened, I was not just setting future Jemma up for failure, I was negatively impacting everyone who worked on this event by refusing them the chance to share their experiences and learn together.

Did I trust everyone and hang all hope on just remembering when we get to July and rip into planning? Is just remembering a sound business strategy, ever?

Is that how we learn?

When we win, when we beat our PB, or make our first sale online, or get invited back to speak next year, can we identify what it was that made the difference?

I know our brains and bodies need rest after we’ve done something huge. It’s so tempting to turn on the television and enjoy not having to think about what just happened. Most of the time, we absolutely deserve some time out from the intensity of what happened. But the key to change is the last step that almost everyone forgets, including me.

It’s the notes in the back of your notebook. It’s the conversations you have after the interview, dissecting every terrible answer you gave and howling with laughter. It’s the meeting request no-one has the energy for now, but is incredibly glad happened last year. It’s the courage to see a professional for the first time. It’s the list you add to when that thought pops into your mind. It’s the journaling you do after the breakup through your tears. It’s being brave enough to ask for speaker feedback, and then asking again.

It’s asking yourself, and giving others the chance to pipe up too,

If I were to do this again, how would I do it differently?
What was fantastic that I’ll do again?

What did I learn?
Where else can I applied what I’ve learned?

What do I still need to learn?

If you’re interested in making reflecting on your work a habit, I participated in a thirty-day experience that helped me immensely called the altMBA. If you want to read more about that, click here.