Mistakes I’ve Made #7

6 May 2011 — 3 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!


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I am a qualified youth worker, writer and consultant based in Littlehampton, UK. I've worked in the voluntary youth sector for over 12 years, am married to Kirsty and we have two daughters named Hope and Eloise. Check out 'Journeying Together: Growing Youth Work and Youth Workers in Local Communities' and read my opening chapter.

3 responses to Mistakes I’ve Made #7

  1. Hi Jon….good post and very honest!

    I think there’s a certain degree to which we can place the expectation to be ‘the one who knows best’ on ourselves, because we feel that is what expected by others….I know that when I started out in youth ministry and was introduced as our ‘Youth Work expert’ to the church I was working for, I felt the pressure to have an answer to everything! It took sometime to work out that my role can actually be to build a team that works things out together. I guess the often lonely nature of youth work can be a contributing factor too…

    Good thoughts

    • Hi Jon, thanks for taking time to comment. I’m surprised and embarrassed for you. Being introduced as ‘the expert’ is setting expectations very high! Glad you’ve overcome that particular hurdle.

      I think my main development has been to actually listen rather than assuming. It’s true that I am able to do some things well, but that doesn’t mean I should. I’m finding it’s better to let others explore and learn for themselves instead of me deciding what, where and when.

      Nice to have you on board!

  2. Great post Jon! unfortunately I know also that I am guilty of the same thing! In fact even today I was thinking the very same thing “the more I learn, the less I know!” I think for me a big battle I have is learning to keep my mouth shut. I can often just speak my thoughts and feelings to get the banter going or even as a way of getting other young people to know that I’m relaxed, but actually in the past it has been at the expense of an individual (though not for a while!). A bigger example more recently is that I shared with the children’s church a story about the Pastor’s son. It was to do with a particular attitude he had and an example of perhaps not what to do. It was only afterwards that I realised what I’d done when later the individual came up to me and said “I hear you spoke about me in children’s church.” I was extremely apologetic and thankfully he was good natured about it but I made it clear to him that I was wrong on the matter and thankfully our relationship wasn’t harmed! But, lesson learnt, this time!

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