Today is a day for adventures. I’m setting out to sea with two of my friends in the kayaks to circumnavigate the harbour and up the Wareham river. Then back again. Ok, so it’s not the Amazon that we’re navigating, but bear in mind that Poole harbour is one of the largest in the world and this will be my longest trip by kayak ever. About six times further than i’ve done before in fact.
It’s not a trip that’s filled with danger and hazards: there are no sharks here and the most dangerous thing will be my homemade pickle to go with the sandwiches, but it is something that i’ve never done before and it will be hard work and, when push comes to shove, how often do you do something new for the first time?
Testing ourselves is part of learning. I think i can do this, i know i could do it if my life depended on it, but i’ve never done it before. Today, it’s just an aspiration. Tomorrow, it may be fact. Or i may fail. Either way, i will have learnt something: either that it’s within my capability, or that it’s beyond it. If it’s beyond it, i will have learnt why i failed and hopefully be more determined to try again and succeed. Failure can be part of our motivation as much as success.
The thing about challenges is that it’s easy not to face up to them. It’s easy to think about doing a course next year, about hiking in the Andes or about painting the lounge, but until you actually do it, it’s all just talk. Similarly, it’s easy to want to be better at doing something at work, be it sales, mentoring or paperwork, but until you actually make the change, until you try something different and find if you can do it or not, it’s just all talk.
Within our learning methodology, we need to think about where the disturbance comes from: is it external pressure to change or internal pressure to test yourself? Do you seek excellence or is it someone else’s view that you’re subscribing to? For organisations the challenge is to understand the motivation of the learners: what drives people is not always what we assume will drive them, but if we understand where motivation comes from, if we understand how achievement gives pride and energy to face other challenges, that’s a win for everyone.
Personal challenges can teach us about our own drive and resilience. Through our successes or failures we can discover how we respond under pressure, we can sometimes expand our horizons and gain different perspectives. To this day some of my greatest achievements in terms of adventures and expeditions inform my drive and motivation. I know what i’m capable of achieving, but i still need to test myself sometimes.
Of course, challenges don’t have to be physical, it may be that you want to do a degree or read War and Peace. It kind of doesn’t matter, it’s the process of testing ourselves against a standard that allows us to look inside and decide if we are the person we want to be. Challenge in itself if not the thing that fulfils us, it’s understanding how we respond to it. If i can face the challenge in rowing, even when i’m tired, even when i think i’ll fail, what will that tell me about how i will face other challenges. Indeed, if i fail, what will i learn from that about failure. Will i like it? Probably not. Will it make me more determined? Probably.
And what if we don’t face challenges? Do we stagnate? What if we just carry on doing tomorrow what we’ve done today, watching time slip by. Will we have achieved what we want to achieve, or will we one day think about the things we failed to do?
Disturbance is a key part of learning: driving us to change things, but reflection is equally important, reflecting on what we have achieved. We should understand this for ourselves and in the ways that we support others in their learning. Everyone faces different mountains, all our challenges are different, but with the right support, with the right friends around us, win or lose, succeed or fail, we will still learn.