Nobody likes to make mistakes. In your classes, you want all your scores to be a perfect 100%. You don’t want to raise your hand if you’re not totally sure you have the right answer. But a lot of the time, you don’t have the right answer.
Three weeks ago, I landed on the island of Kauai, ready to start my DukeEngage journey. I had never been to any of the Hawaiian Islands. What I did know about Kauai was straight out of news articles and Youtube videos. Even so, when I first started working with the Waipa Foundation, helping in the gardens and the kitchen, I was determined not make any mistakes.
Of course, that didn’t happen. That very first week I’m sure I was a complete nuisance. Even the simplest task I could find a way to mess up. When asked to water the gardens, I ended up flattening some of the plants. Kari, a Waipa staff member, taught me that the proper way is to hold the nozzle upside down so that the water falls in a gentle mist. In the kitchen, I peeled and cut vegetables to go in the food processor. I cut them way too small and it ended up taking twice as long to put them in the food processor, effectively holding up lunch.
If I documented all my mistakes, this blog post would probably turn into a good-sized book, so I’ll leave it at that. By the end of the first week I was frustrated with myself. When gently corrected, the right way made so much sense that I berated myself for not realizing it earlier.
Two weeks later, I still make mistakes. But I’ve realized that there’s no way you can go into a completely new culture and not make a huge pile of mistakes. I’ve made a new promise to myself that whenever I do make a mistake, I will do my best to take other’s feedback and use it to improve myself.
However, it’s important to actively learn from more experienced people, like the wonderful Waipa staff. Being observant is a key way to learn. For instance, noticing that everyone takes their shoes off before stepping on the tarps so that they don’t track mud over them. I’ve learned I can do my best to not make mistakes. But it’s not the end of the world if I do. Cliché as it sounds, you need to make mistakes to learn, whether that’s in Kauai or at Duke.