An unusual definition of “breakdown”

One of the first lessons I learned when I trained to be a coach was about “breakdowns.” My coaching school, New Ventures West, defines a “breakdown” as “non-obviousness.”*

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Take a moment to let that sink in. Breakdown is when you experience non-obviousness.

Something about your life doesn’t feel right, and it’s not obvious what the problem is.
You are in a new or challenging situation, and it’s not obvious what the next, best move would be.
You know what you should do or want to do, and it’s not obvious why you aren’t doing it.  

Most of us intuitively understand that we might be in “breakdown” if something major in our lives was going off the rails —our career or our marriage, for example. But the radical thing about defining breakdown as “a state of non-obviousness” is that if we’re paying attention, we are all frequently in breakdown. 

Think about it. If we’re really paying attention, we probably find ourselves in a state of non-obviousness perhaps even multiple times a day.

It might not be obvious what the best way is to deal with a challenging relationship at work.
It might not be obvious what the best way is to prioritize our personal finances.
It might not be obvious what our goals are at work or at home. 

That doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re failing at any of those things. Most of us are quite competent people who make it through just fine, most of the time! It just means that if we were really paying attention, we’d notice that there are more situations than we thought, when we’re not really sure what is best for us.

And when things aren't obvious, life can get really interesting. We can can question assumptions and ideas that we thought were set in stone. We can explore and try new things, from a genuinely curious place. We can get advice and support, because we don't expect to be able to figure it all out on our own. 

If we let ourselves be in breakdown, it can sometimes lead us to truly thriving in the world. 

Which leads me to ask: In what areas of your life are you currently experiencing “non-obviousness”? How could you behave differently, by embracing that reality?






* New Ventures West was inspired by Heidegger’s work in developing this definition of “breakdown.” I am not a Heidegger scholar, but my understanding is that it comes from a combination of two terms in his work: “breakdown of transparency” and “breakdown of obviousness.”