Lightening the load

On my morning commute today a very worried young man sat next to me.  He pulled out a thick text book and feverishly pored over it.  It’s no exaggeration to say that he was working himself into a real state of anxiety – mumbling sentences out loud, pressing his fingers to his ears and rocking to and fro.

Most of us would have put our earphones in , shut our eyes and put it down as another ‘commuting nutter’ story.    I decided to see if I could improve his day.

I asked him what the subject was and he sheepishly said that it was the Chartered Institute of Taxation foundation course.   We briefly discussed what a huge, complex, ever changing and desperately dry topic that could be.  Not only that but his day job only covered about a quarter of the subjects and he was trying to study in his limited spare time via a correspondence course.  He knew no one who had passed first time, even the partners at his firm had struggled. With only 30-40% of candidates rumoured to pass outright he felt it was a hopeless task.

I wondered out loud whether making the exam seem harder than it was might serve any purpose for those that had passed? Perhaps it gave more kudos to the senior guys?  Maybe telling scare stories and frightening the juniors was a bit of a rite of passage?  I also asked what the pass mark was and this was rumoured to be 40-50%.  So I mused that if his day job covered 25% of the syllabus and he was good at that then he had half the required marks in the bag before starting.  All he really had to do was work out how to scrape together 25%.  That didn’t seem too daunting especially as it was an open book exam.

If my new companion applied the 80:20 rule and chose topics carefully he could quite easily get to a point where he was confident of getting the pass mark.  Ok he might not win any prizes but he could relax and really focus on doing a few things well.  After all when in practice as long as he knew what he didn’t know all would be well.

He went very quiet, but as we pulled into the station he said that he’d never looked at it this way.  If he thought about it logically he started to feel confident.  I could visibly see the change in him – as he stood to leave the carriage he looked a few inches taller, less stressed, more confident.

I have no way of knowing how he will perform in his exams, but I will guarantee he had a much better day today than he might otherwise have had.  Perhaps we can all have a better day if we take the time to look at things in a new light.  Getting a fresh perspective can really lighten the load.