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Learning from Mistakes

Dr. Lewis Lipsitt, the developmental psychologist who has had the most impact on my work, passed away this past week.

I wanted to share with you a tribute I had written late last year.

I’m glad that I was offered a chance to write this tribute while he was alive. Otherwise, I would have repeated the mistake I had made more than a decade ago with another person who has had a deep impact on me, Dr. Randy Pausch.


When I think of Lew,
the first thing that happens
is that I feel.

I feel…
presence.

The kind of presence
that makes me feel
as if I’ve entered
a bubble.

A bubble of safety,
security,
and stability.

Even with other people around,
this bubble makes me feel
as if the only participants present
are Lew
and I.

Actually,
that’s not quite right.

There is one more participant.

I shall call the participant …
warmth.

Lew exudes warmth
through the way he carries himself,
the way he speaks,
the way he locks eyes with you,
not to mention
his tone of voice.

Perhaps
it is that warmth,
which occupies the space
between
and around the two of us,
that creates
the bubble
of safety,
security,
and stability.

The second thing that happens
is that I feel humbled.

Humbled…
by a profound remark he shared with me
on what it means
to mature.

That we mature
when what we once assumed to know
takes on more complexity and nuance,
thus changing in meaning.

Just as we can read the same novel
at different stages of our lives
only to draw out new
and different meaning.

Just as we can be with the same parents
at different stages of our lives
only to form new
and different meaning
in the relationship.

Just as most issues critical to our lives—
issues we think we know—
simply gets more complex and nuanced
as we live our lives.

Looking back,
warmth on one hand
humility on the other,
I cannot help but remember
that it was a random act of kindness,
that Lew accepted my invitation
for an interview.

An act,
which I received
as a profound form
of support.

An act,
that leaves marks
10 years
from its first impression.

An act,
that not only inspires my gratitude,
but also a strong will
and desire
to reciprocate the same act
of kindness
with my own random encounters.

Thank you, Lew,
for being a model
and a voice
ever-present in my heart
and mind.

It is with your presence
that I am richer
in heart,
mind,
and spirit.

Thank you
and I love you.

Uniqueness of Pain

When we feel
isolated
in our pain,
we can think that our pain
is unique.

No.

We can think that our pain
must be
unique.

Because we may think that
it is the only way,
we
can matter.

But when we feel
connected
with an other’s pain,
we may realize that our pain
is not unique.

No.

We may realize that our pain
need not be
unique.

Because we can see
that the pain of those
with whom we feel connected
matters
to us,
which means
so does our own pain,
by virtue
of the connection
in our pain.

Proving to One’s Self

“I don’t want validation.
I just want to prove to myself
that I can do it.”
he said.

“How would you know
when you’ve proven it
to yourself?”
she asked.

“I’ll know it
when the customer
loves it.”
he replied.

“It sounds like
you need customer validation
to prove to yourself,
is that right?”
she asked.

Unshared Weight

“The weight
of responsibility
is so heavy.”
remarked the Founder.

“No.”
I responded.

“The weight
of unshared responsibility
is heavy.”
I continued.

“The weight
will be the same
no matter what.
The choice you have
is with whom
you’ll share it
and how.
The choice is yours
and yours
only.”
I remarked.

Not About Me

When someone does something
we dislike
we tend to become
self-absorbed.

They hurt
“me.”
They disrespected
“me.”
They don’t appreciate
“me.”

Me.
Me.
Me.

When we realize empathy,
we often see
that the behavior we considered
to be about
“me”
had less to do with
“me”
and more to do with
them
feeling unsupported.

The Personal Supporter Revolution

“Explain to me simply,
What it is
you want.”
he asked.

“I want people to have
not just personal computers,
but also personal supporters.”
I responded.

“I promise you,
just as we ask ourselves now
how did we live
without personal computers,
there will come a day,
when we will ask ourselves
how did we live
without personal supporters?”
I continued.

Getting Lost by Doing Well

When we work hard
we sometimes
lose
our way.

It’s nobody’s
fault.

When we work hard,
we tend to
focus.

When we focus,
we can
obsess.

When we obsess,
we can get
impatient.

When we get impatient,
we can become
myopic.

When we become myopic,
our priorities
can be decided for us
by our myopia,
instead
of our holistic
vision.

When our decisions
are made for us
by our myopia
instead
of our holistic
vision,
we can feel
lost.

It can be exceptionally hard
to be still
when this happens.

Especially so,
when we feel pressured
by external forces
and the fear of failure
looms large.

So we keep going
despite feeling
lost.