My Learning Story: Biliana Vassileva:

Unlearning for Change

Biliana Vassileva

The UN’s fourth Sustainable Development Goal is about access to quality education and life-long learning – both essential to bringing positive change into the world.

We are living in times of constant, rapid and profound change, triggered by climate change and digital transformation. To find the right answers to new questions we need to learn more, and maybe differently. Curiosity, creativity and critical thinking are as important as maths, IT, languages skills, etc... We need to be innovative and ingenious to build a just, peaceful and sustainable world for us and our children.

Learning needs well-run education systems, but it comes from inside the human being. It’s fun, but sometimes it’s painful. In preparation for the upcoming Ethical Leadership in Business event in June 2020, we have invited diverse people from around the world to share stories of their learning journeys. These stories offer inspiring insights and invite us to reflect on our education and life-long learning.

‘My Learning Story’ hopes to become a global learning experience, connecting people around the world as they share their stories of what we all do every day: learning to build a brighter future.


Interview with Biliana Vassileva, Senior Social Innovation Coach


Biliana, you are a coach and consultant with extensive experience in social innovation and change. Did you have to UNLEARN something?

To take myself too seriously and I am still in the process of learning it. Also, I am learning not to trust too much the thoughts in my head.


In your work you are focusing also on the role of failure. What lessons did you learn from failure?

It is said that it is important to learn from failure by analyzing it, which is right. But we need to turn failure into action, and not only knowledge… otherwise we will get paralyzed by the failure experience. It's like after an accident you have to go back to the situation. For example, if you fell from a horse, you need to get back on it as soon as possible, in order not to become afraid of it. To do so, it needs a lot of courage, creativity and trust in oneself.


How does failure prevent us from being successful? 

It doesn't. In fact, failure helps us become successful. What comes in the way, though, are our fears.

I’ve learned that there are 5 types of fears which we need to overcome to be able to change: 

1.    Fear of not being good enough. To overcome this fear one needs to take action which will build up self-confidence.

2.    Fear that we have to compete with one another. To counterbalance that fear we need to engage into collaboration with others.

3.    Fear of the unknown. Here the solution is about being creative, trying things out until they work. That shows the direction in which to go.

4.   Fear of not achieving one’s goal. To manage that fear we need to learn how to embrace failure and to use it to one's advantage.

5.    Fear of being successful. One may wonder, but it's a real fear. How will I change if I am successful? Will my family and friends still love me? This fear can paralyze us. So the answer is: try it, live it! Let reality surprise you!


Who is your best teacher?

Nature. Being in nature relaxes me, opens me up for surprises. 15 years ago I went scuba diving with my husband. I had questions how to deal with resistance in change context. Suddenly, I saw a flock of fish floating and going with the current, and the current was constantly changing. I discovered that we need to be with the change, relax and work with it.


What do we need to learn to manage constant change and uncertainty ?

We need to learn to laugh again about ourselves. We need to learn to laugh about our situations. We are living in a world that provides us everything, so humor helps to get unstuck, to see the fun side.


How can we learn to change?

It’s hard to change. So we need to listen to ourselves. If something doesn’t work we need to listen to our inner voice and learn. Life is totally contextual, so the context calls us to do something concrete. Learning how to change is really about changing how I think about change and how I do things in order to be aligned with my inner voice and the context.


What do you want to learn but you haven’t dared yet?

I am my hardest critic, so I want to learn to judge less and accept myself more. I need to learn to trust myself.


What did life teach you?

The importance of taking care of myself in order to take care of others. This way I can contribute and support the change I want to see in the world.

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