Don’t be afraid to spread your wings.

Don’t be afraid to spread your wings……you might land somewhere exciting.

Of course, you might just land somewhere not so good by spreading your wings and trying something new. The fear of landing somewhere bad, of messing things up, of people thinking we are a failure/stupid/reckless etc. is what stops many of us from trying. But should it? Stop and have a look at the most successful people you know. Have they always gotten things right? Is everything they have ever tried been a success? Has anyone ever ridiculed them for their ideas or what they are attempting to achieve?

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The Power of Statistics

Woo hoo! Winter is over! Today is the first day of Spring which means the Canberra winter has officially come to an end. This year seemed especially cold to me but was it colder than normal? That is the question and if you listened to the radio this morning it depends on which report you were listening to, as to whether it was indeed an especially cold winter. One report I heard today said that if Canberrans felt it had been a cold winter they were right, and another report said it was no colder than usual. One would think that the weather, the temperature, was a fact. Therefore, it was either colder than usual or not. That however, is the joy of statistics. When first encountering statistics in my student days, I naively thought that they were fact. They are as they are. I have since learnt that statistics, are open to interpretation and representation and some statistics are better ‘quality’ than others. While it might be true that the average temperature during winter was x degrees, there is then some flexibility in how that information is interpreted. Is it compared to the average in the past 10 years? Or since records started? Is it important to take into consideration the amount of nights below zero? The number of days over fifteen degrees? Or how long the maximum temperature was reached for on a given day? You get the general idea. The thing about statistics is that people can use them different ways. It irks me when people try to use them in a misleading way. The power of statistics is that if one does realise that they can be subject to interpretation, then they can be interpreted as fact or indeed the data can be presented differently in order to convey the desired message. For example, consider a graph where the scale is reduced so that instead of having 0 to 100%, it shows 99 to 100%. The effect of this is that a non-significant difference between two statistics can suddenly appear to be very significant. Someone presenting the information in this way can manipulate the data in order to show what they want.

In these two graphs, the data difference between the two companies looks quite different, simply by changing what is represented in the scale.

Consider another example, often we have scientific studies that can be used to show the difference between two groups. For example, maybe Group A performed better on a memory test than group B and Group A was given a dietary supplement with a magic compound whereas group B was not. This may be presented by the company in such a manner that it promotes sales of the dietary supplement. However, if not all the information is presented, it may appear that the dietary supplement makes a significant difference when really it does not. Whether the difference between the two groups is significant depends on the size of the two groups, the variability between the two groups and whether there are any other factors influencing the difference between the groups (maybe one group was older). It is also important to know how sure we are that the difference is significant- what is the probability that the difference is just due to chance?

The power of statistics is that they can be used to change people’s behavior, but the danger of statistics is that they are not the pure fact that they may initially appear to be. If one is aware of this then before making a decision based on statistic, you can look at the statistic More closely. You can examine it to see if you are truly happy with what it is representing or if the way it is being interpreted. Then you can determine if it is something on which you should allow your behavior, thoughts or decisions to be influenced by.

So next time you see a statistic presented, have a look more closely and question what it is really saying.

Education as a life-long process.

As a 16 year-old, I was looking forwards to the end of school. The end of tests, exams and education. Then I decided to go to university. Okay, so three more years of education it was to be. In reality I spent four and a half of the next five years at university. But what then? My basic degree didn’t qualify me to do anything I really wanted. So, I took a year off and then embarked on another two years of university education to complete a Graduate Diploma and a Masters degree.

So by this time I had my VCE (Victorian Certificate of Education or year 12 qualification), two Bachelors degrees, a graduate diploma and a Masters degree. At this point I swore, never again. Never again would I embark on more education.

A few years later, I had moved into an area of my profession that I didn’t really think I had the qualifications to handle. I could just go back to what I was doing or I could embark on further study. I had also start to wonder what would happen if I wanted to change professions during the course of my working life and the consequences that having a very specific Masters degree would have on my options. Enough time had passed and my thirst for learning had returned. So, I decided to take the more challenging option and returned to study a further Masters degree. This time, doing so while juggling a job that was highly demanding and involved far more hours than your average full time job. Luckily, my job also involved lots of travel and I soon discovered time on airplanes was valuable study time. I finished that Masters degree a few months ago and this time knew that it was not a case of swearing I would never study again. I knew it was pointless to say I would never study again, not just because I have a thirst for learning but also because I view education differently now to when I was sixteen years old.

When I was sixteen, I thought education was something you did when you were young, but then you finished. Now I know, education should be a lifelong process. Even within my profession, things change over time. Our professional governing body requires we embark on continuing professional development in order to keep up and offer services which are up to date. This is a sign of the world we live in.

Our world does not stay still. It changes all the time. Things progress very rapidly and to not learn is to get left behind. The kids graduating from high school and university now are far more knowledgeable in areas that are currently in demand from the job sector that I was when I graduated high school all of those years ago. If I was not to study, I would quickly get overtaken by the newer, up and coming generations. They would be the ones that get the good jobs and I would be left with the scraps. Like many people, I have no desire to be left behind by the younger generations which means I need to study and embark on further education. In a world where things change so quickly, learning is key for everyone. If you think about it, this is not just true for our work lives.

Look at the members of the older generations and who are unable to use computers and other technologies which form a key pillar to all aspects of our lives. Have you ever wondered how they let that happen? How did they not keep up? Truth be told, we are also at risk of ending up in a similar situation. With technology changing so quickly, it is easy to be left behind. If we want to continue to use the technology that we value so much in all areas of our lives but which changes so quickly, we must continue to learn and educate ourselves in how to use the latest and greatest tools and gadgets. Training, learning and education is the key.

The need for education, however, does not mean that everyone must embark on multiple higher education courses. We are lucky enough to live in a world where learning and education are at our finger tips. The internet means there is almost unlimited information that can be readily accessed. This information can be easily accessed simply by looking up topics of interest. If you don’t have internet or a computer, there is always the local library. With free access to internet and computers in most libraries around the country, accessibility to information is at an all-time high. Of course once does have to be careful about what they read on the internet and the quality of information but for anyone who is unsure, there are also a plethora of courses run through various institutions that are free to access.

In the few months since I have finished studying, I have done a chemistry course, a physics course and a course about the social side of changes in agriculture. All of these are free. I found something that interested me and I put aside the time to learn. I am sure that it won’t be long until I start something else because the one key thing I have learnt above all else over the years is the value of continuing to learn. Education in one form or another is not something that we should view as a process that occurs and stops, but rather a key element of our lives that is a lifelong process.

I Can’t Run

I call myself a runner. I like to run. I like the sense of accomplishment I get from finishing a run and I enjoy the endorphins running causes to be released and the effect that has on my mood. However, I also know I am not a good runner. I am not speedy, and my ability to go long distances has definitely deteriorated over the years with age and life getting in the way of consistent running. However, I would not say I can’t run even if I am unfit enough that running a couple of hundred metres leaves me gasping for breath.

Often when friends tell me they need a cheap form of exercise I suggest they try going for a run. All you need is shorts, t-shirt and a pair of runners and off you go. Contrary to popular belief, you do not need all of the latest gadgetry to go for a run. Look at kids- they run and run all day long and don’t require anything special to do so except a desire to get to the next point quickly. As adults, we can also run with minimalistic equipment and don’t actually require heart rate monitors, a GPS enabled watch etc.

When I suggest to my friends that they try running, often they will say, “I can’t run” or “I am not a runner” or “I tried running once but couldn’t”. As I probe further, I discover it is that they can’t run very far or very fast. Not being able to do something well is not the same as not being able to do it at all.

We live in a day and age where we get used to getting things instantly. Emails, text messages and information are all at our fingertips in an instant. That doesn’t mean that being good at things is also instantaneous. Being good at something still takes time and effort even in this age where other things are instantaneous. This blog for me is largely about improving my writing. I can write an essay well, I can write a report, I can write a presentation. All of these forms of writing I can do well. However, creative writing or writing a blog are areas I have never really tried. Am I good at them? Probably not really yet. Can I get better at them if I work at it? Of course! Would I call myself a writer? This is maybe where I need to take my own advice. I will probably never be a professional writer but I can put words on a page, formulate ideas, publish my blog or write a story. Am I a writer? Yes. Will I ever be the best writer in the world? I think I can safely say no. Am I a runner? Yes, will I ever be a professional athlete? No.

I do know that not working at something is the fastest way to guarantee not getting better at it. So, whether it be running or writing, we should all remember that you don’t have to be the best at something to get enjoyment out of it or benefits from it. We should also not expect to be great at something the first time we try it. If we could be wouldn’t everyone do it? So put on your running shoes and go for a run even if you only make 50 metres. Tomorrow you might make 100 metres. Pick up your pen and write something or draw a picture. Whatever it is you think you aren’t good at, go and give it a try, work at and you might just surprise yourself or at least have some fun along the way.