Dealing with uncertainty

Unsplash: Andrew Neel

Unsplash: Andrew Neel

How certain are you? We have both internal and external influences that can create a sense of uncertainty or doubt in our careers. Are you one who desires to know all the possibilities to prepare for any situation? You are likely uncomfortable with unexpected changes in your day. No worries, this is the majority of us.

A hypothetical example: Connie is a V.P. at a green energy company. She works to promote the use of environmentally sustainable sources of energy. The current political landscape has threatened her funding. The budget, she carefully prepared, last fall for her team was the basis of her teams goals for the year. How is Connie feeling about her goals today? Would you say that she has to deal with uncertainty? Perhaps she is feeling doubt about her own abilities to deliver. She has always met or exceeded her goals, in fact that is how she has made it to her V.P. position.

Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd. - Voltaire

There are several choices for Connie. I will offer two common choices. She can try to project every scenario to ensure she can respond optimally. Or she can remain on track with her goals allowing herself to remain flexible to the circumstance as they come. Easy choice? Consider what factors Connie will be influence by in her response?

{Time for reflection}

Now that you gave a moment to think about that, how would you summarize it? What portion of your response is based on how you would handle the situation?

If we look at our biology, the brain is designed to predict what might happen. This enables us to manage our world with more ease. Example; if you are being chased by a large animal and predicted that crawling into a small space may protect you, you would respond based on your prediction. The actual experience is unlikely to match our prediction. The animal may be able to use an arm to reach you. When we are stressed, our brain actually narrows the focus of our attention and decreases the working memory capacity. Resulting in a decrease in our ability to adapt quickly. Our ability to respond with reduced stress actually increases are adaptability. It is a balance between chaos and certainty. The answer lies in facing the uncertainty to the level of comfort we can tolerate. This in principle is try, fail and learn quickly.

We are all unique in our perception of risk. Connie can tolerate social risk, which enables her to talk to her management about the risks to the budget. However, Connie may be uncomfortable with the financial risks of not meeting her budget. How she approaches the uncertainty of funding for green energy is not predictable by any of us, it is unique to Connie.

The moral of the story is that uncertainty will always exist. It is our own unique perception of the risk it represents that will determine how we respond. It is natural for us to want to predict possible outcomes. The one true way to build our comfort with uncertainty is to face it. The more we face it and learn the true risk to us, the more we can reduce our stress to become agile in our response.

Regardless of your answer to the reflection above, understand that we can only truly know our own tolerance for risk. It is up to each of us to empathize and sympathize with others who are facing their own version or perception of the same uncertainty we face.