Archives For Mistakes

A series of posts reflecting on stupid things I have done in my work with young people. Hopefully you may learn from my mistakes!

Mistakes I’ve Made #11

23 December 2011 — 2 Comments

Everyone makes mistakes, and when it comes to my youth work I’ve made some clangers! Hopefully by reproducing them here, it may give you a bit of a laugh and help you to avoid doing the same thing.

Photo: 'EXECUTED BY MISTAKE' by the_moog on Flickr

Mistake #11: (Almost) Ruining Christmas

Each year our church hold a very short (45 mins) service on Christmas Day which involves a few carols, the kids each sharing about a gift they were given, and a quick presentation reminding people about the reason for our celebration: the birth of Jesus.

A few years back I was asked to do “the talk” for the Christmas Day service and prepared what I thought would be a fun and engaging few minutes. I planned to do the brilliant chocolate sprouts illustration followed up by a funny anecdote about Christmas.  Turned out, it wasn’t that funny to some people…

The story I told was of a friend of mine who had accidentally put his foot in it at Christmas time. At a kid’s event, my friend had noticed a young lad who was not engaging with the current activity so went over to ask if he was ok. The boy quietly shared the burden he was carrying, that he knew that Father Christmas wasn’t real. Realising there was no use trying to persuade him otherwise, my friend gently said, “You’re right, he’s not real” before adding “It’s just like the Tooth Fairy”. At that moment, a look of horror swept over the child’s face as he cried out “Not the Tooth Fairy as well!”

Obviously, it’s a humorous and true story that I took great pleasure in telling that Christmas morning. Unfortunately it never occurred to me that in retelling that tale in front of numerous families with young children, that I would effectively be making the exact same mistake as my friend in the story and putting my foot right in it. Although I never explicitly stated that Santa wasn’t real, the implication from the story was that both he and the Tooth Fairy are fantasy figures – something that parents aren’t too keen to hear mentioned in front of their children on Christmas Day!

A couple of people were understandably very upset at the time and I was told that I had ruined Christmas. Thankfully, most people were fine about it and many, many people still lovingly remind me of it to this day – much to my embarrassment.

So what about you? Have YOU ever said something publicly that you later regretted? Have you ever told a child that Father Christmas isn’t real? What happened? Share with us in the comments!

Everyone makes mistakes, and when it comes to my youth work I’ve made some clangers! Hopefully by reproducing them here, it may give you a bit of a laugh and help you to avoid doing the same thing.

Photo: 'EXECUTED BY MISTAKE' by the_moog on Flickr

Mistake #10: Ignoring disrespectful behaviour

When groups of people hang out, there is usually some humorous banter between them; a bit of cheeky name-calling, a few in-jokes, etc. When you’re working with groups of young people you get all that magnified to the extreme and often things get said that are rude, offensive or generally unhelpful – even if they were not originally intended that way. When this happens, the comment or behaviour needs to be challenged (and hopefully discussed) so people can learn how it might be insulting to others. If it’s not challenged, then it can become normal or even a habit.

The classic example for me was in my early days as a youth worker. A group of young people I worked with would constantly be putting each other down, often in very witty and creative ways. It became a bit of an art to outdo each other with insults and make jokes at each others’ expense. The things they said to each other were rude and hurtful, but because everyone joined in and because they were delivered with razor-sharp wit, I ignored it for a long time.

I remember that one of their favourite phrases was “you’re gay” – a term they used towards each other in a derogatory way. The implication in the statement was that being gay was a bad or stupid thing, and by calling someone “gay”, they were therefore inferior in some way. Obviously this should have been addressed straight away, but it wasn’t. I let it go.

My biggest regret now is that I went so long without challenging this behaviour directly. Partly I think that I wasn’t too confident in standing up to them, and partly I rationalised that they didn’t actually mean what they were saying as it was a joke. However, it was still wrong. In the end, the other workers and I enforced some rules about respect but it was too little, too late for that group.

So what about you? Have YOU ever let young people get away with things that should have been addressed? What was the outcome? Share with us in the comments!

Everyone makes mistakes, and when it comes to my youth work I’ve made some clangers! Hopefully by reproducing them here, it may give you a bit of a laugh and help you to avoid doing the same thing.

Photo: 'EXECUTED BY MISTAKE' by the_moog on Flickr

Mistake #9: Not backing up my team

This is something that’s happened quite recently and has been a bit of a painful learning experience…

You may know the situation; you’re having a meeting with a number of volunteers who give up their own time to run various activities. There’s a mix of people there who have different skills and understandings of the work and you’re all talking about how it could be developed for the future. And then someone, in their enthusiasm to improve the club, says something quite critical of how it is currently run.

Everything goes a bit quiet. A few people hold their breath. Those who’ve invested a lot of time and care into the club tense their shoulders and bite their lips. It’s obvious someone needs to address this. Someone should explain how hard it’s been. Someone should point out how well the team have done in the circumstances. Someone should praise their commitment and faithfulness. Who should it be? The team leader should do it! Who’s the team leader? Oh wait… that’s me.

In this particular situation, I failed utterly. I didn’t defend the team. I didn’t even gently back them up. I let the comment go and the conversation lumbered on, my silence reaffirming everything the critique had implied. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand – I could see what was happening. It’s just I knew the person who made the comment didn’t mean it as a personal attack so I didn’t want to exacerbate the situation. Unfortunately that’s exactly what I did.

Much later the individuals whose club was criticised came to see me and unpacked just how hurtful my inaction had been. They explained blow by blow how unvalued, unsupported, and worthless I had made them feel in that meeting because I didn’t defend them. That was a tough day.

So what about you?

Have YOU ever let your team down? Have there been moments where you should have lept in, but failed to do so? Share with us in the comments!

Everyone makes mistakes, and when it comes to my youth work I’ve made some clangers! Hopefully by reproducing them here, it may give you a bit of a laugh and help you to avoid doing the same thing.

Photo: 'EXECUTED BY MISTAKE' by the_moog on Flickr

Mistake #8: Not believing in myself

This may seem a strange topic to follow on from Mistake #7 about thinking I know best, but the truth is I can be quite contradictory – at least internally. On some things I know my own mind and am absolutely convinced I am doing the correct thing, yet at the same time I can be doubting and second guessing other choices and decisions constantly! Self doubt can be a crippling problem that stops us being effective in our job, relationships and general life.

An important example of this for me was when I went for my first ever youth work job interview (and my second ever interview). I was 19 and confident that I wanted to work with young people despite not really knowing what that entailed. When I was taken into the interview room, I suddenly felt very self-conscious and couldn’t bring myself to look at the three people interviewing me! They asked me a bunch of questions which I must have answered well, but I simply didn’t believe I should be there. Why had I even gone for that job? What was I thinking? These people would never hire me! In that situation, nearly everything positive faded away and left me feeling pretty useless.

Amazingly though, I was offered the job! I later found out it was because of my local knowledge (as I wrote about here), but my manager spent the next few years publicly encouraging me at every opportunity.

I do still have moments where I doubt my own abilities and think that I’m not good enough or educated enough or liked enough to achieve something. But I love what fellow youth worker Roy Hutch wrote on his blog a few weeks ago:

Remember – you will make mistakes, you will get it wrong, you will screw up once in a while.  That’s life, it does not mean you are finished.

Have confidence in yourself, a right understanding of your ability, learn to love yourself appropriately.  Be confident that you are capable of many things – you are not a failure because you have failed.  Learn to have confidence in yourself.

So what about you?

Have YOU ever had a moment when you really wondered if you were cut out for this role? What happened? Share with us in the comments!

Everyone makes mistakes, and when it comes to my youth work I’ve made some clangers! Hopefully by reproducing them here, it may give you a bit of a laugh and help you to avoid doing the same thing.

Photo: 'EXECUTED BY MISTAKE' by the_moog on Flickr

Mistake #7: Thinking I know Best

Now I need to be honest here. Telling you about this mistake is difficult because there are so many examples to chose from that can illustrate the point. Perhaps the time when I took a short cut on an orienteering exercise and ended up climbing fences, steep hills and crossing streams instead of the simple cross-country path? Or perhaps when I made an important decision regarding volunteers that contradicted the instructions of my manager (and got us all into trouble)? Or even when I decided to play a particularly rough game with the youth group despite protests from the volunteer team and we had more injuries than the Battle of Hastings? There are many more, but you get the idea.

I am sometimes so blindly confident in my (suspect) abilities that I think I know better than everyone else around me. Take music for example. I remember as an annoying 19-year-old, telling a co-worker that I didn’t listen to ‘pop’ music as it was cheesy. I proudly stated that I listened to cool bands… like Oasis. OK, you can stop laughing now… Please?!

It may just be my own character traits and no-one else suffers with this same problem, however I suspect some other youth workers may find this familiar too, or have been in this position. It can be too easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we, as youth workers or educators, know best. After all we’ve been doing it a while, or have had extensive training, or are far more able to make sensible judgements than the young people we work with right? Right?! Well, no. Maybe not!

I’d love to tell all about how this is a mistake that I have now learnt to overcome. However the sad truth is it’s a mistake that I make again and again. The moment I start to believe that I’m doing OK, is the moment when I start believing that I know best again! I constantly have to remind myself to stop, listen to others, and make informed decisions. In fact, as the old saying goes; the more I learn, the less I realise I know.

So what about you?

Have YOU ever thought or assumed you know better than others? What happened? Is this something you struggle with or do you have the opposite problem? Share with us in the comments!

Photo: 'EXECUTED BY MISTAKE' by the_moog on Flickr

Everyone makes mistakes, and when it comes to my youth work I’ve made some clangers! Hopefully by reproducing them here, it may give you a bit of a laugh and help you to avoid doing the same thing.

 

Mistake #6: Trying to do everything

By nature, I’m a bit of a generalist. I don’t have any one thing I’m amazing at, but instead I can turn my hand to most things and get reasonable results – well at least not terrible results. This website is a case in point. Since starting blogging in 2004, I’ve learnt html code, a bit of php, javascript, image editing, configuring web servers, etc. More importantly, I’ve also learnt to think more clearly and construct better blog posts. I’m not great at any of these things, but I know enough to get by. I like to explore and learn.

The trouble is, when you do most things to an OK standard you start to think that you might as well do everything yourself. When it comes to youth work, I’m really guilty of trying to do everything. It may be just my own character flaw, but it’s so much easier to get on with something instead of having to spend time explaining it to someone who may do it wrong anyway. 😉

A classic example of my idiocy is when we organised a youth group residential. While I had a team of six volunteers coming on the weekend, I decided it was easier to give each of them one task or talk, and do the rest myself. So I wrote and sent letters, did the budget, took money, booked the venue, planned the programme, worked out the menu, organised transport, collected equipment, etc, etc. None of this was particularly difficult, but it was time consuming and I had no-one to plan it with or check things with. Also, while I did try and book people to come and run specific tasks, they weren’t available and I didn’t find the time to sort anything else out.

It ended up that on that particular weekend that although I was in charge of whole thing, I also led the worship for the young people (on guitar), I organised most of the meals (because I didn’t find anyone to do the catering), did a teaching session, and even stayed up on late duty! It was completely ridiculous and totally my own fault. Of course, the team were amazing and pulled together to make it work. The young people even had a good time!

I did learn from that experience that I need to communicate better with others and trust them to take on tasks, even if they do things differently from me. I think I’ve been getting better…

So what about you? Have YOU ever taken on too much or struggle to delegate? Share with us in the comments!

Photo: 'EXECUTED BY MISTAKE' by the_moog on Flickr


Everyone makes mistakes, and when it comes to my youth work I’ve made some clangers! Hopefully by reproducing them here, it may give you a bit of a laugh and help you to avoid doing the same thing.

Mistake #5: Pathetic Participation
Everyone in youth work circles knows that participation is an important thing. It’s one of those buzz words that gets thrown about; managers are desperate to get young people to do it and funders always want to see evidence of it. Participation is all about allowing young people (and others who have a vested interest in the group/activity/organisation) to make decisions about the direction of the group. There are many ways of doing this including electing members, having steering groups, holding special events, etc. But the best way is simply to include opportunities for decision-making in every aspect of the organisation. In reality though it probably doesn’t happen as much as it should. From experience, I know how badly it can be done…

A great (or terrible) example is when we decided to change to logo for one of our church youth groups a few years back. I had the brilliant idea that the young people should design what the logo should be like and so I launched a competition. So far, so good. The problem was that as the entries started to trickle in, I didn’t really like any of them that much. Rather than working with a designer to bring some of the hand-drawn scribbles to life, or allowing the young people to vote for their favourites, I simply made up my own logo loosely based on some of their ideas.

When it came to announcing the winner a number of weeks later, I proudly stood on the stage and explained that we had a number of winners as each of them had created some element that had been incorporated into the final design. I think I had convinced myself at that point! Each of those individuals won a prize, but when I unveiled the new design, there was a great deal of murmuring and moaning while the group struggled to find any traces of their ideas in the logo. I even remember shouts of “it’s a fix!” being aimed at me!

Thankfully, the group were very good natured and very forgiving (although they did tease me for a while). We kept the logo and moved on. Looking back now, I am extremely embarrassed about how tokenistic and shallow that participation was. I have since seen some amazing projects that allow young people real opportunities of changing and leading the organisation including places that have 18 year olds as the chairperson!

So what about you? Have YOU ever included young people in decision-making successfully or have you simply done your own thing like I did? Share with us in the comments!

Photo: 'EXECUTED BY MISTAKE' by the_moog on Flickr


Everyone makes mistakes, and when it comes to my youth work I’ve made some clangers! Hopefully by reproducing them here, it may give you a bit of a laugh and help you to avoid doing the same thing.

Mistake #4: Not believing what I’m told
This mistake follows on directly from my last mistake where I naively believed everything I was told. Because I’ve been caught out by my gullibility a few times I have sometimes swung too far the other way, becoming very jaded and cynical and choosing not to believe things when presented to me.

In my defence, young people can tend to make up or exaggerate things in an effort to try and outdo each other. I always remember one particular young person telling me ever so sincerely about the horse that lived in their house. It would hang around the kitchen and he would take it in the garden to get a ride. Turns out that wasn’t actually true, so I didn’t feel bad for being sceptical about that one!

A potentially more serious issue occurred on a residential trip where I was assisting as part of the team. A rather difficult and forthright young woman had been a pain to the staff for the entire trip and had tried our patience pretty much to the limit with her stroppy and rude behaviour. We had been called every name under the sun, had to listen as she complained about every activity we did, and got abuse most meal times when she refused to eat anything on the menu!

Right near the end of the trip, this individual came up to me and a colleague and bluntly alleged that some of the girls she was sharing a room with had been bullying her and taken some of her things. I will admit that I instantly did not believe a word of it. To be honest, if anyone was likely to have been doing any bullying it would have been her, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if she had hidden her own stuff just to cause a scene! I had little sympathy and probably would have done nothing to help her.

Thankfully, my colleague was rather more professional and less judgemental than me. She recognised the genuine distress in the young woman, and responded beautifully by offering to help return her things and work through the issues with the other girls. It turns out this bullying had gone on most of the week and had been the root cause of a lot of her issues. I learned a lot about my attitude from that experience.

So what about you? Have YOU ever dismissed someone’s comment only to later find out it was true? Share with us in the comments!

Mistakes I’ve Made #3

26 November 2010 — 3 Comments

Photo: 'EXECUTED BY MISTAKE' by the_moog on Flickr

Everyone makes mistakes, and when it comes to my youth work I’ve made some clangers! Hopefully by reproducing them here, it may give you a bit of a laugh and help you to avoid doing the same thing.

Mistake #3: Believing everything I’m told
I’m not sure about you, but I can sometimes be quite gullible. I guess this can be seen as a positive (at least, I like to think of it that way) because it means that I naturally trust other people and assume that they are honest and reliable. However, this has caused me to come unstuck a few times…

One incident occurred when I was running an event for teenagers and my line manager told me an unlikely but plausible story about a visiting dignitary attending that day. I was informed I would have to brief my team and be prepared for a security entourage when this individual arrived including a ban on mobile phones and cameras. It was only later when the manager gleefully announced to a huge team of staff and volunteers that he had tricked me, did I realise the date was April 1st. Aside from a bruised ego, that prank was pretty harmless.

Far more problematic is when I have been lied to by young people. A number of years ago I took a group of teenage boys swimming to an adventure pool. In the minibus on the way home, some of the lads were talking about a brand new mobile phone they had seen at the swimming centre. A couple of them were also hinting strongly that Pete, one of the boys, had stolen it. When we got back I took Pete aside and asked him directly about the phone. His answer was cagey, so I asked him again. This time he took offence that I would question his integrity and spontaneously turned out all his pockets to prove his innocence. Aside from some loose change, some cigarettes and a lighter there was no evidence of any phone. He told me that he had seen the phone because some guy had left it in a jacket in the changing rooms, but they went and found the owner who gratefully recovered his belongings. Pete’s story was consistent with what the others had said. Besides, he looked really aggrieved that he had been accused of something. I thanked him for his honesty and off he went. It was only by chance that as I drove round the corner, I saw Pete reach down his sweater and pull out a brand new top-of-the-range Nokia!

So what about you? Have YOU ever trusted what someone has told you only to be let down later? Share with us in the comments!

Photo: 'EXECUTED BY MISTAKE' by the_moog on Flickr

Everyone makes mistakes, and when it comes to my youth work I’ve made some clangers! Hopefully by reproducing them here, it may give you a bit of a laugh and help you to avoid doing the same thing.

Mistake #2: Praying for young people with my eyes closed
Now this one is really only relevant to Christians, but is a mistake nonetheless. For those of us familiar with church prayer events, this will probably be all too familiar as I think we all have horror stories of praying for others, or being prayed for. For everyone else, corporate prayer is an important aspect of Christian life but needs to be treated sensibly and respectfully, especially when dealing with children and young people.

A number of years ago when I was just starting out as a volunteer youth worker, I had the opportunity to serve on a youth team for a large Christian event. At one point during that week, we were encouraged to get into small groups and pray for any issues effecting the young people. I gathered with three young men who nominated things to pray for before we got down to actually praying.

I held my hands out, closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and prepared to pray my very best and most important prayer – after all, I needed to set a good example for the young people. I had only uttered a few words before I heard a faint ‘thud’ sound. Not wanting to interrupt my important prayer, and mildly annoyed that someone was being disruptive and making noises, I continued for a few moments. When I got to the end of that prayer, satisfied I had done my work, I opened my eyes.

The young man that I had been praying for was crumpled in a heap at my feet, with his two friends awkwardly looking at me. It seems that he had been dramatically impacted by the Holy Spirit and his response had been to fall down – quite common in more evangelical churches. With my eyes closed and absorbed in my own prayer, I had missed all of the signs that would have enabled me to catch him and gently lower him to the ground. Worse still, I had carried on regardless and left his mates to check if he was OK (he was) while others looked on in horror. Strangely, no-one else wanted prayer after that…

So what about you? Have YOU ever messed up when praying for a young person? Share with us in the comments!

Photo Credit: the_moog on Flickr