How to Navigate a Sea of Uncertainty
I don’t know…
I’m not sure…
It’s just really confusing.
I wish it were easy to answer simple questions; questions like: “what makes me happy?” or “what do I want to be when I grow up?”
I wish I knew if the things that frustrated me in my relationships (marriage, friendships, business partnerships) were things I should break-up over, or work through.
I wish I could be certain that I’m making the right choices for me; but I’m not.
It’s extremely frustrating, somewhat frightening, and downright embarrassing at times to realize that you can’t be sure that the choices you make today will still be right for you 10 years from now.
As a coach and a psychologist, I constantly seek to be more insightful about who I am and what I need to live well. Although with time I learn more and more about myself and others, there’s never a point where I can say with utmost certainty that I’ve got it all figured out.
Only uncertainty is certain
Fact: There is no such thing as certainty.
Even hindsight doesn’t grant certainty, it only tells you about the choices you made, not the potential outcomes of the ones you didn’t.
Fact: Without certainty, there is no guarantee that you won’t make a mistake.
Fact: Because you can’t be certain of your choices, you can’t help but feel anxious in the face of change or action.
So where does that leave you?
You could never make a change and keep the status quo (the devil you know kind of thing)? Choose the path most traveled, and opt for the options that seem right for everyone else? Never take a risk or a chance?
Surprisingly, this is exactly how most people respond to the fear of making a mistake. Better avoid the discomfort of uncertainty altogether and stick with what you know; avoid making big changes or taking risks.
I’m not one of those people, and you shouldn’t be either.
How to beat the fear of uncertainty
Start with accepting that uncertainty is certain. Acknowledge that you are neither fortune teller nor seer. You cannot possibly predict the future, but then again nor can anyone else.
Understand that all you do know to be true is what is, not what will be. Any choice you make (lifestyle, career, relationships, vacation destinations… ) needs to be based not on what might happen later, but on what you know to be true about yourself and the world right at the time you are making the decision!
Act without too much fear of regret, you must know yourself well – which, basically means you have to make time to cultivate insight, be clear on what you need (in this moment) to be satisfied and work with that information first and foremost.
Take time to cultivate personal insight. To get to a place where you can act without too much fear of regret, you must know yourself well – which, basically means you have to make time to cultivate insight, be clear on what you need (in this moment) to be satisfied, and work with that information first and foremost.
(choices + actions ) x insight = THRIVING
When the choices you make and the actions you take
are based on insight about what’s right for you, you thrive!
Acting despite uncertainty is good
It puts you back in the driver’s seat: Take action! It's the only way to really gain control over your world and your fate. Even when you can’t guarantee the outcomes of a choice, making that choice puts you back in the driver‘s seat on life’s journey. Control is good, it makes you feel like a free agent, it is important to mental health, and that in turn is essential to physical health. Taking action is also the key to building confidence.
It’s much more fun: Choosing to act despite uncertainty also means you get to experience new things, things you actually want to experience. If all hell breaks loose and for some reason down the road you realize the choices you made weren’t, in fact, the best, at least you’ll know you did it your way. There is nothing worse than having your life mucked up because someone else screwed it up for you.
It’s the one big perk of adulthood: Making your own choices is way more fun than having someone else choose for you. Wasn’t that what we all wanted as teenagers, to have the right to choose for ourselves, rather than have our lives dictated by what others wanted?
It’s the safer option: Yes, you read right, facing the winds of uncertainty is much safer than passively bobbing through life.
Allowing others to choose right for you, or passively staying put for fear of making a mistake is like being stranded in the middle of the Pacific Ocean in a dinghy with no oars and no hope of rescue.
Taking a chance on what you know to be right for you, based on a deeper insight about your needs and who you are, on the other hand, is like sailing through the Pacific Ocean on a beautiful ship; it could be a wonderful adventure, you could get hit by a typhoon, but at least you can steer your way out of danger and towards paradise.
If you really want to be pragmatic about it, taking a chance on the things you believe are right for you increases the likelihood that you will live a life that has some measure of fulfillment.
It also provides a great opportunity to make mistakes without regret. It’s hard to regret something when you know, deep down inside, that there was nothing else you could have done at the time that felt that right.
How to cope with uncertainty
So, how does one cope with uncertainty? How do you deal with the fact that despite all your knowledge, hard work, and hours of googling there are still things you can’t answer without a doubt, and choices with outcomes you can’t guarantee?
You suck it up!
You accept that action despite fear is the norm. You accept that the choices you make can only reasonably be based on what you know to be true about yourself or about the world at this very moment. You do your damnedest to figure out who you are at this point in time and trust her to know what right for you looks like.
I wish I could be certain that I’m making the right choices for me, but I’m not. You shrug your shoulders, take a deep breath, and remember you’re lucky to not have life all figured out before the end.