Where will I live?
Where will I work from?
Do I enjoy working virtually?
Will my friends wedding happen?
When will me and Sarah be able to go on Holiday together?
That’s just practical uncertainty and there are existential questions that have been given time to surface over the last 18 months too.
Would I value a more simple life?
Who am I now?
What do I value?
What do I want?
I can find uncertainty suffocating, even as I type this I can feel myself breathing quite sharply in my chest.
It can feel like I am drowning, like I’m treading water, just struggling to stay afloat. Working really hard to just not drown.
I find that there’s actually more uncertainty now as we begin to re-open our world and transition out of the relative certainty of a lockdown. Whilst the sense of imprisonment and lack of freedom wasn’t fun, it was clear, it was black and white.
I have been learning to thrive in uncertainty, not just cope in uncertainty, but to move forward and embrace the uncertainty to create opportunity and live a good life even in difficult situations with big questions on the table.
Even before COVID hit I was working on getting more comfortable in the discomfort, getting comfortable being uncomfortable, because uncertainty always exists. Our world is rarely black and white, it’s often grey and different shades of grey.
The reason I wanted to get more comfortable in periods of uncertainty is that I was killing myself with thinking. I was relentlessly trying to think my way out of uncertain situations. I had a constant frown on my face, I had a heavy head - all I was doing was trying to think my way to certainty.
I was playing out conversations, playing out situations, I was just thinking thinking, thinking. That was my way to combat uncertainty.
When COVID hit, I couldn’t think my way out of it and I realised it was pointless doing so.
I found that my need to create certainty and think about my life situation was taking me away from my life. I was just in my head, thinking, not present, not in my relationships, just thinking constantly and my head hurt. My head hurts right now thinking about that. My head feels heavy like it just wants to loll to one side.
My need for certainty is a need for control and a desire to keep myself safe and away from harm. When things feel uncertain I get worried that I’ll lose something, lose someone and hurt myself or someone else. The desire to arrive at certainty is to feel safe, to avoid fear, to avoid pain.
Yet the desire for certainty can limit opportunity, if I’m just desperately clutching for certainty then I’ll take the first thing in front of me, or I’ll miss out on what else is around me. When I’m desperate for certainty I’m also thinking with my head too, I’m just thinking, I’m not really listening to how I might feel, I’m scared.
There are a few practices and things I’ve picked up over the last year that have supported me in feeling comfortable in uncomfortable situations that I want to share with you.
- Stopping. When I find myself over thinking, or I catch myself ruminating. I try to stop myself, stop working, stop what I’m doing and do something different. Go for a walk, do something with my hands. Literally just do something else and change my environment.
- Walking. Sometimes when I walk I can just be literally walking round in circles and I could spend an entire walk thinking. Yet if I go for a walk and focus on the sounds of the birds, or try and smile at passers by, or look up. Then it’s different, I get transported into the present moment.
- Yoga. Yin Yoga especially is a really slow form of Yoga that is literally designed to put your body in uncomfortable positions that you stay in for a long time. It is so good.
- Patience. This is more meta, but I’m trying to get more used to being patient and just wait for stuff to happen, not rushing myself, being more patient with myself.
- Rowing. In rowing you have to be comfortable in a rocky boat, you have to get used to being a little unstable and noticing how your actions in the boat could rock the boat. Learning something new like this has had lots of metaphors for me around uncertainty.
- Running. Running helps me shake out my energy, I am also not very good at it so I get tired. Getting tired means I typically forget what I am thinking about.
- Eckhart Tolle. I find the teaching of Eckhart Tolle very supportive as a sort of structure to come back to. Generally, the general feeling of what does it really mean to my ego for things to fail or fall apart? His words and teachings give me a sense of perspective and help me return to the stillness of the present moment.
There’s a lot of uncertainty in the air right now as I believe our world is turning. The shift to virtual working in particular is an absolutely seismic shift in how we live our lives, how we centre our lives, it’s a reorganisation and that’s hard.
Getting comfortable in uncertainty is absolutely key for all of us to navigate the complexities of an ever-changing world.
The only certainty is continued uncertainty.
It’s on us to choose how we be in that. I believe if we learn to dance in uncertainty, to relax into it, to accept it, then we’ll be able to create new lives that weren’t possible before.
2/30 (I'm writing 30 Articles in 30 days)
To get updates on my book on Mental Health at Work that's being published by Penguin, sign up to the email list here.
To get a weekly newsletter (like the above), sign up to that email list here.