Discovering what I am capable of

The Revenant is certainly not the best movie I have ever seen. But it got me thinking.

Very quickly into the plot there is a disruption. It’s what the audience expects and we would be sorely disappointed if the entire viewing experience was one where the hero was portrayed without experiencing difficulties and challenges.

Whilst the film certainly stretched my suspension of belief faculties way beyond what is usually demanded, the protagonist experiences extremely difficult challenges but, through sheer grit and nerves of steel, he is able to find ways to ensure that he survives.

All film and literature largely uses this idea in the narrative structure where there is immediately a disruption that has to somehow be resolved. It is working through these that the hero makes it through to the other side and, in the case of The Revenant, pretty battered and bruised with big, brutal bear-scars as proof. The make-up artist’s dream.

The same thing can be said of our own lives and whilst I certainly do not recommend that we do a re-enactment of the DiCaprio film to make the point, it has to be said that breakthroughs, both personally and professionally do not take place when we are comfortable and all is plain sailing.

Blue in the morning

Ray Land, professor at Durham University, has done considerable research on tricky and difficult knowledge that students face at university and the same can be said of our own personal and professional lives.

When we experience something that is uncomfortable and difficult – a problem at work, a difficult concept that we have to communicate – that’s when we can either take the easier road and not really deal with it (use water instead of oil to stop the squeaking wheel, as Peter Senge challenged) or we become comfortable being in that liminal space of not knowing, of being uncomfortable because we do not have the answer ready to hand.

When we rescue ourselves, our colleagues and our children with Elastoplast and try to protect ourselves and others from the true difficulty of getting through the tough parts, we are doing a huge disservice to us and them.

Knowledge at school should be tricky and troublesome. How else can we get to the next level if we don’t have a struggle?  The teaching should be the scaffolding to get through this hard and tough space, not rescuing the child from the difficult ideas and concepts. Soft and soothing words have their place but not at the expense of the learning.

The problem at work often is dealt with the quick fix that stores up problems for later. We rush to find a solution but sometimes there have to be hard and difficult things to be discussed and dealt with and it is okay to be in that uncomfortable place. We should deploy our humanity, show our vulnerabilities appropriately but only to people we trust and who have earned that right (Brene Brown:, but we should not simply avoid the issues because they are unpalatable or disruptive.

I know personally that I do love being comfortable but often ‘news from elsewhere’ (Vincent Deary, How to Live), causes us disruption: a mistake we have made, a poor judgement call, an over-reaction, a difficult person we have to deal with. We can run and hide – goodness I have! – or we can deal with this news.

This leads to a new way of thinking. I have not yet entirely lived and breathed it. I am working at it. Chase Jarvis in writes:

Comfort is the enemy of purpose: How to pursue life-changing risk. There is no force as powerful as pursuit. It a gritty daily grind – but it is the only way to find out what you are capable of.

There will always be disruptions, difficulties, uncomfortable moments, troublesome things – this is the daily bread of our personal and professional lives. I am only just getting to understand how to deal with them. I thought I could do it in a driverless car but I have come to see we need drivers and passengers, help and encouragement and the wisdom of teachers and leaders to navigate the ride. Driverless is simply not the answer.

I want to find out – my Bucket List, I suppose – what I am capable of. It will be a gritty daily grind. I am hoping I will enjoy the ride.


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