Why confusion isn't always a bad thing… [Wise Wednesdays]
‘I feel confused!’, the good doctor said at the start of the coaching conversation.
‘Is that a problem? Or just an observation?’, I replied.
Or as Tony Robbins puts it: ‘You’re confused? Congratulations!’
We live in a culture that values expertise – a knowledge economy. You’re valued because you have the answers, immediately.
But that’s not how life works.
THE SPACE BETWEEN STORIES
We used to have rituals to honour periods of ‘confusion’ when we might move from one social role to another.
Native American people still practise them like Hanbleceya (which you may know as ‘vision quest’). Young adults would go out in to the wild to work out their stuff and come back with an idea of what they wanted to do in life. They would be guided by elders in the process and only return after communicating with spirit animals and facing all manner of discomfort to connect with a special idea of some kind that would then be interpreted.
In fact the proper translation of Hanbleceya is ‘crying out for a vision’ reflecting that yearning we all have when we’re confused for more clarity.
Today, we boil these rituals down to birthdays, weddings and funerals and perhaps a nice dinner when you get a new job.
So what does ‘good’ confusion look like today as we go through changes in our careers and lives?
[Read on or watch the video below]
‘GOOD’ CONFUSION: QUESTIONING THE STORY
Connecting with a ‘vision’ of the next part of your career requires space. It’s been called the space between stories – the period between the old story and the new one.
The process is also called ‘learning’ which naturally entails unlearning stuff that no longer serves you. You’re integrating your previous experience and shifting perspective in a significant way which has an impact on everything in your life – your job, the way you do your job, your relationships, your health, etc.
The experience and knowledge you’ve accumulated subconsciously over time starts to burst forth into consciousness and challenge what you think you know.
In ritual terms it’s called “liminality”. The old story/role doesn’t quite fit anymore. But the new one isn’t clear yet. So it feels like everything is a mish-mash or a scary void.
But this is all good news if you understand that you’re simply going through a process.
Legends in the making: For my clients it’s often that they’re letting go of the ‘employee-expert’ mindset (the roles, beliefs and stories that go with it) and cultivating the ‘entrepreneur-leader mindset’. There can also be a letting go of the wounded-healer identity (rescuing and over-giving in work, etc) into a visionary empath and leader identity (tapping into their ability to see things others can’t and guiding them with wisdom and compassion to create a new world).
Coaching is a kind of ‘ritual’ to help you through the journey.
‘BAD’ CONFUSION: QUESTIONING THE EXPERIENCE
I believe the unmistakable trait of ‘bad’ confusion is that it invalidates of your feelings. There’s a sense of disrespecting your human experience.
No-one can tell you how you feel. You feel how you feel. We can respectfully discuss the assumptions and stories we tell about why we feel that way and see if we can find common ground. But no-one can ever tell you that you shouldn’t feel a certain way without acknowledging that the feelings make total sense based on the story underneath.
“The story may be questioned, but not the feelings”.
For example, one of my clients assumed that her kids disrespected her when they wouldn’t do what she asked them to in the morning. But when she had a genuine conversation with them, she found out they were teased at school for the way they looked.
If she had simply invalidated how they felt and pushed them rather than explored the assumptions they’re developing underneath about beauty, identity and how much importance should be given to other people’s opinions, the relationship would have been increasingly strained and a teaching opportunity missed.
She allowed them to be ‘confused’ and talk about it.
“Sometimes down is up. Sometimes up is down. Sometimes when you’re lost you’re found.” - Alice in Wonderland
No confusion ever got resolved by talking at it. Confusion needs to be held and processed with breathing, time and ritual. Then the old stories that no longer serve can be explored – with respect – and released to make way for the new.
So if you’re going through a period of confusion, check in to see its origin – is it invalidation (of your experience) or learning (and unlearning beliefs that no longer serve you)?
What ritual or vision quest will you design for yourself? Remember, you can spend time in nature and with others who can guide you.
Have a great week,
p.s. I’m excited to be giving a talk on Work Cultures that Liberate for Goodenough College alum. You can register here if you’re a past or current member. https://www.goodenough.ac.uk/alumni/alumni-diary-2/. Also to be speaking on the Entrepreneurial Mindset at Columbia University and give a Phoenix Talk on The Success Trap for the World Traders Guild. While these talks are private, I also share my top insights at The Leaders Circle on specific themes in a small group coaching environment. The next one’s planned for March 31st at 7pm UK / 2pm EST.