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Bite-sized stories of failure and success. Failure bites. It’s painful, discouraging and embarrassing. Just the idea of failure, whether it’s a big messy fail or a small setback, can be hard to digest. It’s time to change the way we think about failure. Yes, failure may be all of those negative things, but failure is also a very important part of learning and growing. Behind every great success story is a long series of failures and challenges that were also learning experiences. Join host Dr. Kristin Brynteson as she talks with successful people about failure, growth and success to inspire you and take the bite out of failure.

Failure Bites - Tough Love with Julie Patterson

NIU STEM Outreach and WNIJ

Show notes:

Julie Patterson is a Registered Dietitian with a Bachelor’s degree in Human Nutrition and Dietetics from the University of Illinois- Chicago, a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from DePaul and a PhD in Nutrition Science from the University of Wisconsin – Madison.? She is currently an Assistant Professor at Northern Illinois University in the Department of Nutrition, Dietetics and Wellness.? Her research area is exploring the relationship between health care practices and breastfeeding outcomes.? Dr. Patterson also volunteers her time with the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.? She has been on the board in various roles for 7 years and is currently the President of the organization.  

You can connect with her on LinkedIn and learn more about her research and teaching experience at https://www.chhs.niu.edu/about/staff/patterson.shtml

Mad-City Record Ballet Nationals 2016 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fUNNV9pMFj0&feature=youtu.be


KB: Welcome to Failure Bites, the show where we take the bite out of failure, one story at a time. I'm your host, Kristin Brynteson. In this episode, we are talking about coaching and critical feedback. The kind of feedback that is hard to hear, but necessary for growth. My guest is Dr. Julie Patterson, Assistant Professor at NIU in the Department of Nutrition, Dietetics, and Wellness. Listen, as we talk about failure, feedback, and coaching.

KB: So tell me a bit about your failure story. 

JP: Um, sure. So, in college, I spent my first couple summers as a professional water skier at SeaWorld in, uh, San Diego at, in California. And my last summer I worked as a skier at Tommy Bartlett's in the Wisconsin Dells. And, um, the show was quite different, um, at SeaWorld than it was at Tommy Bartlett’s. At Tommy Bartlett's, we had to do what's called a hop dock, which just means you have to hop off the dock onto the water and start skiing. And we do this as a part of a. Um, an act called the ballet line, which is when a line of girls, um, kind of hop off the dock and then start doing ballet moves on the water while balancing on one leg.

Well, unfortunately, I kept falling off the dock, and this was a real problem because the crowd could see what was happening. So there was no like hiding the fact that I kept falling off the dock and worse than that... Sometimes I wouldn't just fall on my own, but, um, I would take out the person on my right or my left.

So, um, it became a huge problem. And everyone on the team knew it was a problem. I knew it was a problem, and the management knew it was a problem, but no one said anything directly to me until, uh, one day about a month into the summer, my show director, Joey Linscomb, um, asked to talk to me after the show.

And he said, um, you know, Julie, you keep falling off the dock, and it's negatively impacting the team and the quality of the show. And I know, um, I know you can do it, but I can tell when you're going to fall before you take off the dock because I can see the fear in your eyes. And he's like, um, you know, you have the 90%, you can ski, but you keep falling off the docks and no one can see the 90%.

Um, so he said, uh, and this is like what I remember most. He said, you know, not everyone is cut out for show skiing. And those words, uh, shot like daggers through my heart. And, um, and you know, the, the, the thing was, he was telling the truth. I mean, he was right. I was, I was taking the team down and the quality of the show down and people, you know, pay money to see this show.

And, um, and, and it, it was real problematic. And so, I felt at that moment that I had to make a choice, you know, I could either… Walk away, um, or, uh, commit that I would practice, you know, every available minute, um, in order to get that 10% that I was missing to be successful. And so, I asked everyone that I could find, um, that knew how to drive a boat, uh, which was, you know, most of the time it was our assistant show director, JT. And he pulled me between the shows every day until I got it. And, um, I'm happy to report that I actually rarely fall off the dock now. And just a little fun fact is that, um, I actually still ski today and, um, and continued, uh, to ski for an amateur ski club until 2017. And in fact, in 2016, I skied with the Mad City Show Team, and we broke a national record at a tournament by completing a 29 girl ballet line, um, at that tournament.

So just a little, a little fun fact, but, um, that definitely taught me his management and leadership style has definitely resonated with me. Um, in the fact that, you know, I think it would have been easier for him and others, not to say anything to me, um, to call out my performance, but by him calling it out, I, it just became more real… It just sort of hit me right in the face that I needed to, to make a decision and change my performance. And so, that's kind of the management style that I have decided to bring forward is this... idea of coaching is caring. You know, I mean, we could definitely look the other way and sometimes that's, that's easier, but to call someone out on their performance in an objective way, not… it wasn't judgmental, he was very objective, and he was right.

And it just made me feel like now it's my turn. I have to make a decision. I can either decide that I can walk away or I need to put more into get, you know, what I'm doing wrong right. So that's, that's been my approach ever since. 

KB: Well, I think it's really interesting because it's really hard to hear criticism about our performance and to see that from an objective point of view of, okay, this person who's telling me that is just trying to help me get better. They're not trying to make me feel bad. They're not trying to, you know, he was being very honest with you to say you can, you have two choices: You can get better. Or you can leave. And that had to be really hard to hear. 

JP: Absolutely. Um, it was really hard to hear because for him to say, you know, not everyone is a show skier that to me, that wasn't an option, but I needed to hear that in order to realize the problem was so bad that others were recognizing it.

So, I recognized it in myself, but I didn't, I didn't know to the extent that others recognized it as much. And so, by him calling it out, it made it much more clear that this really is a problem, and I have to address it. So, I have absolutely taken that to heart because I don't know that people recognize how they're showing up sometimes, you know, it may not be as obvious as falling off the dock.

I mean, that's pretty obvious, like that was an epic fail, but you know, sometimes when we show up in the work environment, it's not so obvious.  Sometimes it’s, you know, our—this can be really challenging... It's, sometimes it's our non-verbals. Right. And those are very hard to call out, yet they create a negative feeling within an environment.

And so, you know, being able to have an objective conversation about, let's say verbals and a nonverbal communication to say, am I interpreting that correctly? Um, you know, I'm noticing that your arms crossed and your eyes are looking at the ceiling. Is there something that's going on? It feels like you may not really want to be here right now.

And I remember talking to an HR manager once who said, you know, maybe you should bring a mirror with you, um, so that people can see how they're showing up. And that I think is really helpful because I honestly don't know that a lot of times people realize how they're showing up and how that's being perceived by others.

So now I take it as an opportunity to talk to people around me whenever I can to provide them with feedback, you know, good or not so good because I feel like at the end of the day, coaching is caring, and I'm trying to help the people around me be better as I have appreciated when others have done the same for me, you know?

So yeah, the doors go both ways. 

KB: Well, and I know as you and I both are kind of in leadership positions or we've mentored students or… And it's, it's hard to give that kind of feedback because you don't want to hurt their feelings. You don't want to come off sounding negative… To me, I hear your story, and since you were once the person taking that feedback and you used it, you see the benefit of it. So, it gets easier. I guess it's never easy to give critical feedback to somebody, but it gets easier because the feedback is purposeful. And it's all about helping the person you're mentoring or leading succeed and be successful and be the best. 

JP: Exactly. Exactly. And I think, you know, I, I learned that, you know, 10-fold over too in my, in my graduate program, you know, and I would send off, uh, my work to my professor, and, and I would think this is really good. And then it would come back just red as red can be, and yet, I would remind myself that every, every time she touches my work, it gets better. Every time. And in fact, I've learned every time we ask others for their input and for their insight, things get better. Um, because they… people have a different perspective, and they're reading it from a different lens.

So, I think the more that we can open ourselves up to that, um, criticism in a sense and take a step back and realize that people are in fact trying to make you better, uh, versus being critical of your performance, and again, sometimes it can be, it can be hard. I would take a deep breath before I would open up the document, you know, that would come back my way.

And, and then the day that she would say, okay, it's good now. I was like, Oh my gosh, thank God. But that is again, it's that is, I think the sign of a good mentor is someone that is willing to be critical of your performance, not because they're critical of you, but because they want it to be better. And, um, so that is how I, I approach others as well.

KB: Thank you so much for sharing your story. I love the idea of coaching is caring. So, whether you're the one being coached and knowing that the feedback is coming from a place of caring or whether you are the coach and you're providing feedback so that your person you're coaching is getting better. I love that coaching is caring.

JP: I think that being coachable is probably the best trait that one can have because we can teach skills and competencies, but it's the soft skills that become very difficult. So being open to being coachable at every stage of your life, in every aspect of your life, either at home with your families, being open to the feedback that they re you know, that they provide you, in a professional environment, with your peers… I think, um, being open to coaching… So be coachable, that's I would probably, I would hire anyone that's coachable because I know I can teach them the skills. It's the soft skills that are so hard. So recognizing that in yourself, I think is important.

KB: Well, thank you so much for your time and for sharing your story. I really appreciate it.

KB: Critical feedback is not only hard to hear, it can also be hard to give. We don't want to hurt someone's feelings, especially when we know that they are struggling. And if you're the one struggling, it can be hard to admit it and ask for help. But as Julie learned from her experiences, coaching is caring, asking for, and giving feedback helps us get better.

Even the most critical feedback can be easier to give and receive when we know it is coming from a place of caring. Thank you for listening to Failure Bites, and thank you to our guests, Dr. Julie Patterson. Check out the video in the show notes to see her in the record-breaking ballet line. If you want to hear the latest failure to success stories, please subscribe.

Also, we want your feedback. Show us you care by leaving a review. This podcast was produced by NIU STEAM at Northern Illinois University. Your future, our focus.  

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