Dealing With Uncertainty
The word uncertainty keeps on popping up in my discussions with people over the last few months.
Last week I published the post The Stress of the Being an Economic Refugee Expat which was all about the uncertainty that comes up when we make bad decisions or mistakes.
I was referred to the NPR Invisabilia Podcast episode The Weatherman which I highly recommend you give a listen. The episode description says it all:
Who gets to be wrong half the time and keep their job? Weatherpeople! James Spann, chief meteorologist at ABC 33/40 in Birmingham, Alabama, has heard the joke a thousand times. And in some ways it’s true. There are a lot of meteorologists understand about weather forecasting, but there’s, even more, they don’t. They face uncertainty every single day and, when it comes to severe weather, how they navigate that uncertainty matters – it can get people killed, it can save lives. In this episode of Invisibilia, we explore our relationship with uncertainty through the eyes of a chief meteorologist. We wonder: what do you do when you don’t know what to do? And how do we handle it when that question has no answer?
I was raised by my parents to be an employee of a father like company that would take care of me. I would work for 30-40 years and retire with a pension. Uncertainty was not supposed to happen in this idyllic world. Then they moved my cheese.
When Everything Looks Certain but…
We live in very uncertain times. Anyone who thinks there is certainty in their career is either in a unique position or they are smoking something and yes, they are inhaling.
Recently, I interviewed Tami Forman from Path Forward about their returnship programs on the Repurpose Your Career podcast. She mentioned a couple of individuals who had successfully completed returnship programs. Both had been out of the workforce for an extended period of time and had successfully transitioned back to work. I reached out to both and started the process of scheduling them to be interviewed on the Repurpose Your Career podcast. Then reality hit.
The company that both worked for, was acquired by a private equity firm and both were laid off in a matter of weeks.
Tami would not have referred to either of these success stories if she thought that anything was up. That tells you that if you think there is certainty in your current situation, then well… you are wrong.
What to Do in Uncertainty
The first thing you must do is get comfortable with uncertainty. I tell just about everyone who is unemployed that it is uncomfortable being unemployed and you will need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
How do you do this?
My favorite system comes from the book Positive Intelligence by Shirzad Chamine (affiliate link).
I have written on how I used this system in the following:
- When Uncertainty Strikes, Focus on What You Can Control
- Hate Your Job, Miserable, and No One Will Hire You?
This is all about mindfulness, being aware of your situation and learning to accept the situation for what it is.
When We Have Uncertainty, We Tend to Make Stuff Up
When we do not know, we will fill the void of information and make stuff up. I call this the MSU syndrome and I have written multiple posts on this topic before:
- Do You Suffer from Make Stuff Up Disorder?
- 3 Treatments for Make Stuff Up Disorder
- 3 Examples of Professional/Personal Make Stuff Up Disorder
I recommend you read all 3 posts before moving on. When we make stuff up we create our version of reality and it is usually about how awful the situation will be, which I call ‘awfulizing’.
We make stuff up when we are not in control and we are living in uncertainty.
Focus on What You Can Control
There are many things in life that we cannot control. Accept it and move on.
In the podcast episode PR Invisabilia Podcast episode The Weatherman which again I highly recommend you give a listen, James Spann, blames himself when hundreds die from tornados that he warned people about. It took him time to realize that you can warn people about dangerous weather but people will still do stupid stuff. When residents heard a tornado was coming they would run to the front door to try and see it rather than immediately head for the storm cellar.
He could not stop people from making stupid decisions. He was not in control.
When you feel anxious due to uncertainty take action on things you can do.
For example, I have had clients and members of the Career Pivot Community become anxious when a recruiter or hiring manager just goes silent. Usually, this is when they stop responding to their emails. I always ask what can you do to take control of the situation and find out the facts. The reality is they have no idea why the recruiter or hiring manager is not responding.
My suggestion every time is to call them on the phone. Isn’t that a novel idea. If you cannot reach them then call someone who works with them. Play detective and you might actually find out the truth.
I am not a religious person but there is something to be said about the biblical quote “the truth will set you free”.
Focus on finding the truth.
Are You Living in Uncertainty?
For most of us today, the answer is yes.
If you are working for yourself, you are probably out looking for clients or customers. You are not in control of their decision-making process.
Working for an employer is probably no better, as most of the time you are not in control of the corporate direction. Will the company be sold or will the company grow so fast that the culture changes? You may be able to influence the changes but there is no certainty.
All you really can do is to control what you can control. Focus on a plan B and where you will go next. If you are in your 50’s you probably should be planning what you will be doing in your 70’s, which most of us will.
We live in uncertainty and we should all prepare for what is next.
What are you doing about your uncertainty?