This proclamation by Captain James T. Kirk of the USS Enterprise became permanently imprinted in my consciousness during a recent Star Trek television marathon. And so I determined this mantra must hold some divine meaning for me and my work as a facilitator, teacher, and learner.
When did you last approach a professional development opportunity with a willingness to boldly go where you had not gone before? Or let’s dial it down a notch to the personal level: when did you last try something other than “your usual” at your favorite restaurant, walk or drive a different route to work, hit seek on the car radio tuner and listened to whatever station it found first?
We tend to be creatures of habit, regularly revisiting places we have been. The end result? As author Margaret Wheatley has noted: “Gradually we become more certain, but less informed, and far less thoughtful.” In times when uncertainty seems ever-present and innovation ever more desirable, none of us can afford being less informed and less thoughtful.
In a meeting I facilitated last fall, I observed an individual invited by the conversations to dance with uncertainty. He respectfully declined. His brow furrowed, his eyes narrowed, his facial muscles became taut, his arms crossed, his posture slumped, and his focus moved everywhere but the topic being discussed. He shut down before he allowed himself the chance to get turned on by learning. I can identify moments when I have been this person. Can you?
Why do we do this to ourselves? Wheatley again offers possible insight:
“The only way to see more of the complexity (present in the world today) is to ask many others for their perspectives and experiences. Yet if we open ourselves to their differing perceptions we will find ourselves inhabiting the uncomfortable space of not knowing.
“It is very difficult to give up certainty—these positions, beliefs, explanations define us and lie at the core of our personal identity…. “By holding on, we destroy what we hope to preserve; by letting go, we feel secure in accepting what is.”
Perhaps we need a Star Trek villain like the infamous Q, who mercilessly transported the Enterprise and its crew to new places, leaving them to manage a previously unimagined circumstance.Or we might be best served by upgrading our own internal software that shapes our learning beliefs and behaviors. Try this personal manifesto on for size:
Learning, while often done in community with others, begins with me. If I am unwilling to interrupt my assumptions, closed to the value in the opinions of individuals with whom I disagree, or unlikely to engage in new experiences, I cannot learn and should not pretend otherwise.
And while I seek out learning environments and experiences compatible with my learning style, I must assume responsibility for my learning no matter what the situation, who the presenter, or when the program occurs. This may require discarding what I expected or hoped to learn and instead seeking the learning available to me at that moment, in that setting, with that content.
Because everyday moments offer important learning, I will reflect daily, considering the following questions: What happened today? What observations can I make about what happened? What transferable learning is available in those observations?
We often speak of uncertainty or new experiences as “risky or requiring courage.” While this may be true, I wonder how this description helps the cause. Maybe we just need to let uncertainty and differences be what they are … an integral part of our daily lives and critical to our growth and development. Perhaps in this characterization we can find the security we so frequently seek.
As Wheatley observes: “When we are willing to be disturbed by newness rather than clinging to our certainty, when we are willing to truly listen to someone who sees the world differently, then wonderful things happen. We learn that we don’t have to agree with each other in order to explore together. There is no need to be joined together at the head, as long as we are joined together at the heart.”
Maybe then, just maybe, we will be able to boldly go where we have not gone before.