Becoming an Expert in Uncertainty

career abyss discovery new learning re-evaluation uncertainty

This is the smile of someone who has achieved something she didn't feel very certain about.

There's been a bit of that going on lately: a dive into the unknown because my instincts tell me that it's the right thing to do. Covid has played a part in this, as it has for so many of us. The career abyss I felt I was staring into 13 months ago has led to a process of re-evaluation, discovery, new learning, and a good few pennies dropping.

I sit here now with a diary full of incredibly interesting, rewarding and exciting work. Yesterday, I signed a contract for a (little) bit of fabulous work with Tate & the National Galleries of Scotland. That felt really good. But that's not the only thing... I'm working with some fascinating and inspiring coaching clients and I'm getting to sit on rocks, like the one in this photo, cooking up exciting plans.

More on that rock in a bit, but first I want to share the news that today I achieved a major personal and career milestone. I am now an Associate Certified Coach with the ICF (International Coaching Federation). For an unregulated industry like coaching, this is a really big deal. It's basically saying I'm a proper, bona fide, big girl coach. You can definitely trust me to support you with your journey and, perhaps more importantly, I can trust myself. After 100+ hours of coaching, some fabulous mentoring sessions (with a glorious bunch of humans), an assessed recording and an exam, I can now put any little niggling doubt aside about the fact I'm good at what I do, and I can make a real difference in people's lives. Perhaps I should have always known that. But having that rubber stamp of approval from the most widely recognised coaching institution in the world helps. It helps a lot.

Another thing on my mind today is Sam Coniff's Uncertainty Experts experiment. I've just finished the second episode of three and my head is buzzing with thoughts around how the difficult things that have happened can lead to me developing superpowers. It was a total onslaught of the senses. Spoken word (fascinating in itself) and amazing collage film to enhance and fry the brain, coupled with amazing expert interviews and some seriously hard questions, answered quickly, in a real time questionnaire. Like I say, the head is buzzing. I'll write more about this when it's all over!

But it's also got me thinking and it's reminded me that for about 6 weeks I'd been meaning to write a blog post about me sitting on that rock. The photo (credit John Sinclair) was taken in late March when I was working up at Mar Lodge Estate in the Cairngorms. To get to the rock was a pretty steep climb with no path, just rocks, heather and hundreds of hidden holes in the ground to catch you out... well to catch me out to be more accurate. The guys I was working with leapt up that hill like goats.

I was about as far from a mountain goat as you can get. I was terrified that I would be the one to break my ankle and have to be carried back down. It's a vulnerable thing to admit, but it's one of my biggest fears: exerting myself, pushing myself physically, only to do something clumsy and be laughed at. I was laughed at quite a lot as a kid in that context. I was that eager puppy combination of enthusiastic but lacked the co-ordination and dexterity to back up the keenness. So I'd regularly belly flop, or fall over, or try to catch the ball in rounders and somehow missed and it hitting me on the head instead. All funny things, but those laughs have morphed into something more sinister over the years.

So with all those unhelpful stories swirling around my head, I felt pretty invincible when I made it up to that rock without being painfully slow and with no injuries incurred on the way. We went up there to see the remains of an illicit whisky still, up next to a waterfall, sneakily hidden from the excise man's eagle eyes. It was a seriously evocative place, full of stories. I needed to get out of the way so the drone filming and photographer could capture the site, and that's when I found that rock.

I climbed up, and started making notes about the future plans of the project and the ideas just flooded out of me. Now, I don't believe that creativity only occurs under duress. And the image of the tortured, impoverished artist is very unhelpful to nearly all people working in the creative sector. But there is definitely a connection between being uncomfortable; of pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and letting creativity truly flow.

In this instance, it's obvious: I pushed myself physically, way out of my comfort zone, and ideas tumbled out of me, but there are more nuanced occasions where this has happened too. Going for ICF credentialling is certainly one of those as until I passed the final exam a little part of me was still expecting to be called out as a fraud. Even signing up for Sam's experiment felt a little bit like that. It certainly wasn't an easy decision to commit hard earned cash on something I knew wouldn't be easy.

The last year has been quite a rollercoaster of emotions with some the biggest highs and toughest lows in my life. But something utterly precious I've learned, or maybe reaffirmed, is that I achieve my best when I'm out there on the edge, in the uncomfortable place, stepping into the unknown.

May 2021