The Problem With Uncertainty
Does the future look a bit murky right now? The world is in a state of flux. Our functional norms have been thrown out the window and we are unsettled. That discomfort you feel is uncertainty. Everything feels uncertain right now. Everything.
Amid uncertainty, our instinct is to freeze, hunker-down, and wait. We moderate our reactions in an effort to minimize additional damage. Common wisdom suggests that a murky future requires a wait-and-see approach. Our worst-case-scenario generator tells us to play it safe, gather data, and hold tight until we know the worst has past.
Of course, the future is always uncertain. We never really know what it will hold. But COVID-19 has brought a different kind of uncertainty. We’ve never seen anything like it. We are overloaded with information, speculation, and fear. In the uncertainty, we stand still and take a defensive posture. We try to protect. The end result is we are now sitting ducks. We are on our heels. We are reacting. We are waiting for someone else to do something, fix it, or tell us what we do next.
The problem with uncertainty is that it causes us to freeze. When we sit still is when we become the most vulnerable.
Life Goes On, Even Now
Life is still moving. Even in the midst of uncertainty and chaos, it is moving along. Yes, people are dying. We always have. We always will. But, we feel it acutely right now. We feel it horrifically right now. Still, life goes on. We are living today based on imperfect models of death and risk. We are trying to flatten the curve on something that is already sweeping past us. In the middle of it, we are accelerating and extending the suffering by freezing. Every day that we wait and see costs us economically, emotionally, and spiritually. All we see is death. All we hear is fear.
Now is the time for you to act. Now is the time to think about your future. You have to aim for something besides survival. Even now, in this moment. You have to shift from wait-and-see to something more intentional. Some of us have acted upon an instinct for action by hoarding food and supplies. Ok, that is at least a constructive instinct. However, it is misguided and short-sighted. Aim higher.
We need to shift. We need to tip into more proactive action. Millions are out of jobs. If you are one of them, what are you doing every day? If you are sitting around, eating, playing games, and waiting, then you are going to feel the pain of COVID-19 long after things get somewhat back to normal. Our economy is shifting in this moment and there are opportunities. There are still many, many business activities that are considered essential. Seek them out. Don’t wait.
Life goes on. Even now.
Breaking It Down
How do we set definite plans for such an indefinite future? Think of your world in short, mid, and long terms. If your immediate situation is one of survival, you have to stabilize and cover the basics. Food, shelter, and the essentials must be met before you can even look ahead. After that, it’s a game of progressive movement.
Remember, you are most vulnerable when you’re standing still. When we turn our machine off, everything starts to break down. Physical, emotional, and spiritual. Keep your motor humming. Short term goals could be productivity opportunities from sheltering-in-place: home projects, books to read, puzzles, family time, writing, physical health, and new hobbies. Set short term goals. Create a vision for your sequestered life beyond entertaining and distracting yourself. Make it a boot camp for preparing for your future.
Mid term goals should be toward forward motion. If you don’t have a job, get after it immediately. Don’t wait. Even if you have to take a few steps backward, get yourself productive as quickly as possible. if you don’t need money, invest yourself in charity work. If you are like the rest of us, put some points on the board by finding someone to pay you to do something productive. No options? Let go of your pride and do something below your capabilities. Scared? Find something that aligns with your appetite for risk. Do something.
If you still have a job, then you need to protect it by becoming a lynchpin. You need to aim to be irreplaceable. Look for every opportunity to add value, go beyond the call of duty, and make yourself the go-to person for whatever needs to get done. If you are at home, brain-storm the top priorities for your job and company today. How are you working on them? How are you aligned? What else can you be doing? Do it. Now.
Long term goals should focus on thriving. What does it mean to thrive? Living your best life. Being your best self. Start thinking about what that means for you. Now is the time to make definite plans to move toward a life that is full and satisfying. If your life was full and satisfying three weeks ago, aim to get back to that point. If not, what might a new future look like? Write it down and list the ten things you might do this week to move in that direction. Then, start doing them.
Opportunities in Chaos
“But I’m ordered to shelter-in-place,” you might say. “What am I supposed to do besides wait and see?” There are many opportunities if we look for them. Right now, people have a lot of problems and they are feeling them acutely. How might you solve people’s problems? Right now, people are feeling a lot of pain. How might you alleviate suffering? Right now, there is a lot of damage being done to our society, our economy, and our health. How might you make a difference?
Many are retooling and providing critical products. That is awesome! Keep it up. Some have decided to focus on scamming the desperate, fearful, or distracted. Stop it! Opportunities to innovate abound and those who are able to help bring order to chaos will prosper through this pandemic. It all starts with the mindset to be proactive and take action. What is your mindset? If it is “wait and see,” I encourage you to rethink it.
Can I Be Bold?
Can you be bold? The bigger question is: will you be bold? What does bold look like? It looks like not waiting. It looks like being intentional. It looks toward the future. Take a look at it. What might being bold mean for you right now?
Bold is writing down a vision for your life for this moment in time and the ones to come. Then, starting to work on that vision. DO NOT WAIT. Bold is making the decision to push forward, in spite of any fear you may have, and walking toward a new horizon. Right now, all horizons are new, or, at least they have the opportunity to be.
The rules are changing, quickly. For those with their wits about them, opportunities will abound in the new normal emerging. I don’t know if we’ve really flattened any curves but I do see entire industries getting flattened. This presents opportunities for those looking for them.
If you feel that you are not bold, then get bold for yourself and your family. Decide what bold might be for you and how it might benefit those you love. If you are fighting for survival, then be bold in finding a way past the basics. If you are sitting still, then be bold in crafting a new vision for your life. Even if your bold is modest, look to the future and chart a path.
We are in an unprecedented time. The challenges are many. Fear rules the day. Unprecedented challenges bring unprecedented opportunities. For those who find ways to bring order to the chaos, there will be no shortage of demand for your services. There is a freedom right now. A fresh slate is appearing for those willing to act upon it. Don’t freeze. Don’t wait.
- Stabilize. Get the basics covered. Don’t wait for the government checks or instructions. Be proactive and get yourself on solid footing with the essentials.
- Build a plan. Your plan should included short, mid, and long term objectives. Write a vision for your future. Start thinking beyond survival. Your plan should include specific tasks and deadlines as well as broader vision statements about where you want to go and who you want to be in 6, 12, and 24 months. Write it down.
- Get to work on your list. Take action. If you’re currently employed, increase your value and become indispensable. If you need a job, stop gaming and go get one. Now. Today. Even if it is uninspiring, put yourself to work and build your sense of value by producing, contributing, and earning.
- Do something. If you don’t want to work and don’t need to work, apply yourself constructively to priorities at home or on behalf of others. You will feel better if you are productive. You will feel better if you are giving. The chaos will subside a bit if you deploy yourself meaningfully.
- Unplug from the chaos. Limit media updates and stay aware of the essentials. The news is still looping the worst stories and they only feed a sense of dread. Protect your physical AND mental health as much as you possibly can.
- Don’t wait for permission. Keep living. Keep living. Keep living, Every, single, day. Don’t wait for instructions. Don’t wait for a bail out. Don’t wait for COVID-19 to go away. Get started on something definite today. Be definite about the future you want and head in that direction.
Uncertainty rules our day, just like it always has. We do not know how much time we’ve got. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring. We never have. That’s ok. We walk on anyway. The rules may change. A new normal may emerge. That too is ok. You’re made for it. You’re made to adapt, evolve, and grow.
The gift of this moment is pause, reflection, and the body-check forcing us to re-evaluate everything. Take advantage of it. Make definite plans for your indefinite future. Sure, they’ll change but so what? By choosing to be intentional, you’ll see everything else line up in new ways as you feel stronger and more prepared when the storms come.