Our 16 March 2021 event on “Taking back control and redefining failure” was an online masterclass organised jointly by Jonathan Foster (the CIPA Informals’ Welfare Officer) and IP Inclusive’s Mental Health First Aider Network. Jonathan and his colleague Kathryn Taylor (the Informals’ Blog, Website & Social Media Editor) have kindly provided a report in case you missed it. You can also access a recording of the event here.

They write:

This event was open to everyone in the IP sector but particularly aimed at those sitting exams, or with exam results coming up.

It was extremely pleasing to see so many people attending the event from across the worlds of patents and trade marks, with over 70 people listening in.

The speaker for this event was Donna Smith, of Odonnata Coaching. Previously a solicitor, Donna now works with junior lawyers to help them thrive in their careers and avoid burnout by changing the focus to “Burn Bright”.

Donna Smith
Photo by Ursula Kelly @Studiosoftboxuk

Also speaking at the event was Graham McCartney of Jonathan’s Voice. Graham gave an overview of the work the charity is doing, and the importance of reducing stress and talking more openly about mental health.


Jonathan’s Voice

Graham McCartney spoke about Jonathan’s Voice, a charity set up when his son Jonathan tragically took his own life in 2017. The mission of Jonathan’s Voice is to open up the conversation about mental health, and enable people to look after their own mental health and spot signs of struggle in others. Being a patent attorney is a rewarding profession, but comes with challenges that can potentially harm wellbeing. According to IP Inclusive’s 2019 survey, high stress levels and anxiety affected almost 50% of trainee patent and trade mark attorney respondents, with only 30% not affected by a mental health problem.

Jonathan’s Voice were instrumental in setting up the role of Welfare Officer on the CIPA Informals committee, and have produced two guides: “Protecting your mental health and wellbeing: a guide for patent and trademark attorneys” and “Advancing the mental health and wellbeing agenda: A guide for senior leaders in the intellectual property profession”, both available from




Taking back control

Donna’s masterclass presented two techniques: Taking back control is about refocusing your attention on the things you can control, and Redefining failure is about a mindset shift. Donna began by asking the audience three questions:

  • In the past month have you felt overwhelmed?
  • Emotionally drained?
  • Unable to meet constant demands?

Lots of hands were raised.

You are not alone in how you are feeling (as demonstrated by the response to those three questions), but in the midst of a stressful situation it is very easy to feel like you are the only person struggling and that everyone else is coping brilliantly with all of the challenges they are facing.

The Taking back control technique comes from the book The 7 habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey (see Habit 1 is about being proactive.

When feeling overwhelmed, it helps to write down all of your to-dos, worries, concerns, stresses, and uncertainties, and categorise them depending on how much control you have over them. Each cross on the page is one item. Things on the outside of the outer circle are a Given, not within your control, and you can’t do anything about them. Things between the two circles are things that you can Influence but not completely control. Things within the inner circle are completely within your Control.

Taking back control: exercise

On a blank piece of paper, write down all of your worries, concerns, stresses, and uncertainties. Categorise the thoughts as Given, Influence or Control, depending on where in this diagram they fall.

Identify one item that is completely within your control, and answer the following questions:

  1. What could you do to move that item forward, this week?
  2. What support might you need to do that?


Taking back control: reflection

The exercise is useful to help you focus on the things you can control, and be more proactive about them. It is a very simple tool, and helps you to identify the first step and get started when the to-do list looks overwhelming.


Redefining failure

The second part of the webinar was about redefining failure by shifting your mindset. In the legal profession there is a lot of pressure to get it right first time.

Career journeys are often non-linear, and include ups and downs and unexpected changes of direction. Donna shared a story from her own career. Not satisfied with being UK qualified, she decided to start studying for the California bar exam. The exam was a three-day event, with six hours of exams on each day. She remembers logging on to check her results, champagne at the ready, and was very disappointed to find that she had failed the exam by a very narrow margin. This was the first exam she had ever failed, and she did not know how to deal with it.

In retrospect she can now see the benefits – she stayed in the UK rather than moving to California, realised that she was not on the right career path, and most importantly discovered inner grit and determination to keep going. Now she is in a role that she enjoys, loves her work, and uses her talents every day.


Redefining failure: exercise

Think about something that you consider to be one of your failures. Write down how you felt about it at the time.

Now the difficult part – write down some ways in which you have benefitted from the failure.

Finally, what have you learned about as a result of that failure that you use on a regular basis?


Redefining failure: reflection

A perception of failure can cast a shadow over you for years. Try to look at failures from a different angle, and shift your mindset so that failure stops being a thing to be avoided at all costs, and becomes a thing that you learn from and that helps you grow.

This quote, attributed to John C Maxwell, puts it well: “Embrace adversity and make failure a regular part of your life. If you’re not failing, you’re probably not really moving forward.”

For example, waiting for exam results can cause some anxiety, but the exam result is a given – the opportunity to influence the outcome has gone now, but you still have control over what you do next. You can choose to focus on the negatives – how you could have studied harder or worked more – or you can choose to focus on the things you can control and do something about them. The proactive approach is to acknowledge your mistake, learn from it, and therefore turn the failure into a success.

This quote, attributed to Lao Tzu, expresses the importance of mindset:

“Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.”

You have the freedom to choose what you focus on, how you define failure, and what you make it mean for you.

Donna is the creator of the “Burn Bright Programme”, which is built around three key stages: increased resilience, improved performance and higher morale. For more information, please visit


Resources and information

We have had some great feedback from the event, and hope that everyone who came enjoyed it.

If you were unable to attend, we would thoroughly recommend watching the recording and trying out the exercises for yourselves.

As always, if you feel you are struggling, please reach out. For information on who to talk to, please see the Welfare and Wellbeing section of the Yellow Sheet blog; you can also head to IP Inclusive’s Mental Health and Wellbeing page or the Jonathan’s Voice website. If you would like to speak to a mental health first aider, you can email [email protected].

And keep an eye out for future Wellbeing Series talks from the Informals!


Reading list

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown (

The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph by Ryan Holiday (

Mindset by Carol Dweck (

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey (



Page published on 18th March 2021
Page last modified on 25th January 2023
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