How do you navigate the unknown?

September 17, 2015


Isn’t it a strange phenomenon how sometimes the less we understand about things, the more confident we can be about working with them?  Our naivety about the depth of the whole allows us to remain inspired to continue to discover and learn.  In some situations however, as we embark deeply into a subject we can begin to realise how little we really know. 

And, that in itself, can either challenge and excite us or scare us away altogether.




I can recall being a young primary school student being taught mathematics.  In the early years I easily learnt how to add, subtract, multiply and divide.  Learning how to tackle the fundamentals of maths was in fact fun for me.  My confidence swelled as I discovered ways to solve increasingly complicated equations.  In turn, my love of the subject grew.  I found it refreshing to get the answer either right or wrong.  This was in vast contrast to the creative domains of English and Art where assessment was never so black and white.


In senior high school, I took up second unit maths.   The confidence I’d gleaned from results of my earlier learning had me believe I’d “blitz it”.  But oh how wrong I was!


Our less than inspiring second unit maths teacher, Miss R, introduced us to a whole new world of algebra and calculus.  It’s complexity and depth was much harder than I imagined.  The flame I’d held for maths began to burn less brightly as I struggled with these new concepts.  Just to pass I was going to have to put in double the work than I had previously.  


What did I do? …. Well, I told myself life was too short to be delving into such complex matters (code for “I’m stressed and scared I won’t get this… and it’s highly likely I’ll struggle to get the marks I want in HSC if I keep this subject up”) and promptly ditched second unit maths at the end of year 11.  


The reason that I'm sharing this story is that it illustrates psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s (1990) model of the FLOW state rather nicely. 


As an coach I frequently refer to the state of FLOW with clients.  Put simply, when you are in flow you become completely absorbed in what you're is doing.  This is achieved when your level of skill matches the level of challenge presented in a problem or situation.


My initial confidence in Maths was fed by the ease with which I grasped mathematical concepts.  Time would practically stand still for me doing Maths homework as I was completely absorbed in it.  The more my mathematical skills improved, the more challenging the homework that was set.  Motivation was high and I drove myself to solve problems that stretched me.  This remained the case for years until I was confronted with a very new set of mathematical concepts in 2nd Unit Maths that challenged me well beyond my comfort zone.  As much as I tried, the penny struggled to drop with the new concepts.   For the first time, instead of finding time standing still doing Maths homework, I began to experience stress. 




According to the theory of Flow, when you experience a challenge that is vastly greater than the skill you have to solve it, anxiety manifests.  Conversely when your skill is greater than the challenges you're presented with, boredom can kick in.


In my case, when I realised the vast gap between my existing maths skills and the new complicated concepts, anxiety and stress took over and scared me off altogether.


As I look back now I realise what was missing.  It’s pretty simple really.  I was lacking a Coach. Someone to break down the great unknown of calculus and algebra into smaller, more managemeble chunks of information for me to get my head around and help me remain optimistic. Someone to inspire me, listen to me and work through alternative approaches to the problems. Someone to bring awareness to my stress reactions and provide techniques to combat the stress. 


In some ways I liken my Maths journey to the journey that my career coaching clients can find themselves on.  Many clients have paved out successful careers but come to me because they have hit a “cross-road” and need change.  This cross-road may be the result of too much pressure or stress at work.  It may be anxiety from losing a job or returning to work after a long absense. However the stress has manifested, they are all seeking support to find a vocational path that has meaning and purpose to them.


By working with an executive coach for your career, the space is created to establish clear goals and become familiar with the unknown.  It supports you to understand  what makes you unique and to work through things that have held you back from achieving your goals. 



Do you have a goal that is important to you but you're struggling to achieve it?




Are you ready for change but are fearful of the unknown associated with it?



If you answered yes to either of the above, then coaching may be a solution for you.


But there's no pressure. I'm happy to have a chat to see whether it's the right path for you. Simply book in for a complimentary career consultation right here. 











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