It's weird how I can sometimes feel suddenly and inexplicably anxious at work. At a cognitive level, I know I have experience and insights that can add value. At emotional and physiological levels, however, I can nevertheless feel that nagging, nervous grip. I want to explore this because I don’t want to fall into avoidance patterns or allow the anxiety to adversely affect my performance.
So I speak with a coach who invites me to think back to a time when I first felt that feeling. My mind drifts back immediately to when I was a child. I took a test known as the 11+. The results of the test would determine whether I would go to a school that I really dreamed of, or to a school that I absolutely dreaded. To fail would have disastrous consequences, or so it felt at the time.
I found the test easy and left the room feeling confident and relieved. When I received the results, however, unbelievably I had failed. The head teacher was so surprised by this result that he challenged the local authority to explain. Apparently, I had inadvertently missed the back page and left it blank. I missed the one thing that turned out to be vital, and I hadn’t even realised it.
And so a question and a conclusion emerged and embedded themselves in my subconscious mind and live with me today. What if I approach a situation confidently now, only to discover that I have missed something critical? What if I inadvertently miss the back page again? The thought is accompanied by the childhood belief that to fail = catastrophe, and the resulting feeling, anxiety.
The coach offers a solution. To vividly imagine myself back in that experience as a child, but this time knowing what I know now as an adult, how things actually turned out. 1 year later, I took the 12+ and passed and finally realised my dream. Failure resulted in disappointment, but it wasn’t the end of the story. The back page was written, and I have the sense it's still being written now.
Nick is a freelance coach, trainer and OD consultant specialising in reflective practice.