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When projects don’t go as planned (Biting off more than you can chew)

Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. ?

What a whirlwind few months!

Rough start, but a good first two months

Back in September after announcing my Japanese project, I jumped in and started speaking spontaneously my first weeks, and was able to share a prepared speech pretty confidently.

But I quickly ran into a hitch of being desperately sick, just when I was starting to build momentum. A week out of action, also meant a further week catching up on work so I couldn't study full-time for almost two whole weeks!

That was a serious setback, but I brushed it off and was shortly after singing in Japanese, having more Skype conversations, and then at around the two month point, I was speaking at a basic conversational level. I was actually somehow managing to catch up on that lost time, and at a decent point to spring forward to my ultimate target.

Things don't always go according to plan

But unfortunately, I have not reached my goal of fluency in Japanese.

Those early setbacks certainly didn’t help, but the main reason my mission remains incomplete (for now) is that I broke one of my own cardinal rules: Focus on one major project at a time.

My new book (UK/US), which I had managed to keep top secret for a year and a half, spent three months (in Berlin) writing without anyone realizing what I was up to, and naïvely thought my work on it was pretty much done, started to make serious demands on my time.

Launching a traditionally published book actually turns out to be an extremely complicated affair.

This is when I had to make a tough choice.

Ultimately, success in my Japanese project would have meant a better experience in Japan, but the book is much bigger than my single projects. It's a chance to reach potentially millions of aspiring language learners, and I wanted to make sure people get the quality book they deserve, and that it is promoted in the best way possible to reach even more people out there who could be polyglots-in-waiting without even knowing it yet.

The book had to win.

I even thought that maybe I could get another 2 final intensive weeks of studying done while in Thailand for one final boost, but that is when I had yet another illness, as well as my computer completely dying on me!

Good grief!

If I wasn't a man of reason, I'd say that evil fairies had sprinkled bad astrology curses all over my lucky tarot cards. It wasn't the universe working against me, but it was a series of unfortunate setbacks, all while amazing opportunities for my book were cropping up, so I'm in no place to complain.

Lesson learned: Don't bite off more than you can chew

I like to take the positive out of whatever I can. This project didn't go according to plan, and I didn't get to invest three months into it, but I did get to reach a pretty good level after 2 months, and use that to enhance my experience to travel through Japan.

The irony here, is that I have a section in the book specifically about how success in a language project requires your absolute unfiltered focus.

But I bit off more than I could chew, and didn't put the full three months I had initially planned into it. It was a mistake to think I could handle something as demanding as intensively learning a language over three months to a high level, while also launching a book across two continents, and putting finishing touches on that book.

Fail fast, and fail often

I have to say that I'm very sorry to those of you who were expecting more videos, and the cultural updates from reaching a high level in Japanese that I like to do in these projects. I've had such a mountain of work (and still do, especially after taking the time to truly explore Japan – for instance, my pending emails/comments is now into 5 digits…) that I haven't been able to even update the blog consistently.

I never promised that I'd reach that fluency goal, (I said from the start that this was an aim), but I did promise that I would try my best, and spreading myself thin over two big projects was not quite doing that, so in that regard, I messed up.

But despite this – I don't have any regrets. I've always said that people need to fail fast and fail often, and I've had plenty of hiccups in the past. It's the best way to learn. As well as this, there are no true “failures” when you are actually using a language and making real progress;

Aim for the moon, because even if you miss, you may land among the stars. 

So I didn't reach my target, but this project was still another learning experience that left me with a hell of a lot of Japanese learned! I am proud of what I accomplished during my first two and after seeing how I could speak in this video, I hope you all can be inspired by what you can achieve in a really short period of intensive study! 😉

And it turns out that Japanese is not that one true elusive hardest language in the world, and the very next post will be a blast of encouragement for would-be Japanese learners. And next week, I can share some cultural observations after this fascinating and wonderful visit to Japan!

We all have permission to mess up once in a while!

As with all setbacks, it's just a chance to dust yourself off, re-evaluate things, and pick yourself up from where you left off.

I'm of course focusing much more on the book now, so that it launches in the best way that it can in just a couple of weeks, since I'm very passionate that this can make a huge difference to so many aspiring language learners' lives.

After focusing on that, I'm getting right back on the language learning horse and focusing on maintaining and improving each of my long-term languages, and looking at future intensive language learning options after this year.

One thing that is certain; this is not the end of the world 😉

And most importantly, if you've had a language learning project that didn't go according to plan, keep in mind that even experienced polyglots like myself mess up and don't reach our targets. It's not about how hard you fall, but about how high you bounce back up, and I have a lot of bounce in me ready to take on the rest of this year's projects doing the absolute best that I can.

Who's with me? 😀

author headshot

Benny Lewis

Founder, Fluent in 3 Months

Fun-loving Irish guy, full-time globe trotter and international bestselling author. Benny believes the best approach to language learning is to speak from day one.

Speaks: Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Esperanto, Mandarin Chinese, American Sign Language, Dutch, Irish

Fluent in 3 Months: The Challenge

Have a 15-minute conversation in your new language after 90 days