Sick and tired of dealing with uncertainty?
February 8, 2016
Mary C. Schaefer
Topicsemotional intelligence, Growth, Self Development
Uncertainty. It’s probably why I got married at 21 years of age. I didn’t know how to select someone to marry. I didn’t know what constituted good spouse material or how to make such a partnership work. When my boyfriend asked me, I thought, “He must know what it takes to get married.” I said yes.
I bring this up because in retrospect I realize I didn’t know what I would do next if I didn’t get married. I was getting ready to graduate from college. I didn’t have a job offer yet. I had no idea what it took to live on my own. My boyfriend provided me with a ready-made path forward.
I wouldn’t say I had a fear of uncertainty. I simply didn’t know what to do next at that point in my life. With a wedding and a serious job prospect on the horizon, it was nice knowing what the next steps would be.
My first hard lesson of adulthood, i.e. expect one uncertainty after another
Sometimes situations we stumble into work out, like a marriage at age 21. This one didn’t. I remember feeling great anxiety that there was no one to make decisions for me. I had to navigate unfamiliar territory. I'm talking about decisions like when to move out, to initiate the divorce, or to acquire a new place. I remember a friend’s silence at one point indicating to me these were my decisions to make, and mine only.
Challenge uncertainty with anticipation and planning
Then there was the first downsizing event I experienced. After surviving the cut I knew I didn’t want to feel that type of uncertainty again. I learned that I could do a number of things to increase the odds I’d keep my job or be ready for a new one. I could meet keep my eyes open for opportunities when chaos ensued. Keep my skills up to date. Be clear on my financial situation.
Now, if there is rumbling in an area of my life, I ask myself what I can do to prevent it or plan for it.
Fall back on resilience when planning doesn’t work
There are those things that are just going to happen. The bottom fell out of the stock market when I was preparing to sell my house. And I really needed to sell my house. I did, despite obstacles and naysayers.
There are many examples, large and small, that bring uncertainty front and center. A traffic jam on the way to the airport disrupts your travel plans. You receive a diagnosis that changes your life. Someone close to you passes in an untimely way.
Learning to apply resilience and resourcefulness is another place to turn. You will fall back and regroup to get to your intended destination. You will learn what will become the new normal in your life, with your new diagnosis. You will grieve the loss of a loved one in your own way.
Take care of yourself
Another aspect for managing uncertainty is the ability to do what I call self-soothing. I've learned to maintain moderation in my thinking. In other words, don’t think a particular event is the end of the world. Stop torturing yourself with your thoughts.
You catch yourself imagining the worst. Remember life rolls in waves. Hope is just around the corner. In fact, you can make the choice to accelerate a move toward other options. Remind yourself what you can do, versus focus on what you have no control over.
Trust that you can handle whatever comes your way. You have before. Develop and use your support system.
I remember wanting to have a tantrum on the floor like a three-year-old while going through my divorce. I was angry as heck when I didn’t know if I was going to make my first downsizing cut. My stomach hurt in such a cold, dark way when I had a bad falling out with a friend.
But, I made it through when I thought I couldn’t. Expand your definition of success to include those times when you got to the other side of uncertainty, or learned to manage its constancy.
Hi, Mary – another fascinating and useful post:)
Your story about marrying at 21 so as to have a level of certainty in your life rang true with me, especially since I also married at 21 for much the same reasons. I think you make a great point about how most of us tend to seach for and cling to what appears certain, while few of us dare to risk uncertainty.
Of course, as you also note, navigating that uncertainty is also where the learning takes place and this is essential for a productive and happy life.
As my first marriage was crashing, mostly due to the fact that I craved the certainty, but did not have the maturity to live with the responsibility that entailed, I moved to the Big City. My life up to that point was mostly small town, Middle American and MidWest, aside from a few relatively short forays into military life.
As I grappled with the complexity and pace of urban life, I once again clung to familiar and stable things, such as a few friends from “the sticks” who were traveling the same journey. I found that when I dared to keep moving (like Dory:), I did better and the dependence on the familiar did not become toxic.
I think we need the combination of certainty and uncertainty to really get the most out of life.
Thanks so much for another interesting and thought-provoking post. I especially appreciate your willingness to share your own story with us.
Thanks for your commentary, John. Our backgrounds sound similar. I too was reared in the Midwest, on a farm. Moving to the Big City was yet another lesson in managing uncertainty for me too.
I like your insight: “I think we need the combination of certainty and uncertainty to really get the most out of life.” It reminds me of a quotation from Ray Croc, “As long as you’re green you’re growing. As soon as you’re ripe, you’ll rot.”
Here’s to remaining green and growing!