Moving Courageously Into Uncertainty
February of 2017, I reconnected with a college friend at a crowded cafe in Greenwich Village. Shortly after meeting, we decided to go for a walk, during which I asked for his thoughts on matters that really I could only answer. I was considering leaving my research internship and forgoing my plans to return to school, in an effort to build a startup.
The decision was hard. On one hand I had a sense of security and a path, while on the other hand I had an idea with little understanding on how to execute it and a great deal of uncertainty. Ultimately the idea won. The first week after my pivot, I had trouble sleeping because I was anxious about the unknown, and I ended the week throwing darts at all the possibilities.
Fortunately, I’ve grown to work with the uncertainty in more productive ways and have learned to value the adventure it offers. And while I have a vision I’m expanding on and goals I’ve put in place, I’ve accepted that nothing is guaranteed. Really it’s come down to a mix of faith and self-trust that I’ll find a way to work with whatever happens.
Of course uncertainty can still be challenging and the prospect of failure can be intimidating. The following things have helped me manage it all more gracefully:
We usually procrastinate when we’re fearful. Doing something safe that makes us unhappy or complacent can be easier than taking a risk on something new. I’ve made the most progress on my goals when I take the time to define what scares me. I’ve noticed that most of my blocks stemmed from fear of others judgement or fear of failure.
Once I define the fear, it’s much easier for me to determine how rational it is and weigh the risk of taking the action versus not taking the action. I can also consider what the worst case scenario would be and plan out how I’ll respond if that does happen.
We’re often taught that happiness lies on the opposite side of achievements. This is unfortunate because it can lead us to place our value in the hands of external sources that are out of our control. Prioritizing habits that help me maximize my joy, energy and creativity has been crucial for working with uncertainty. For me those habits include meditation, exercise, sleeping 7 hours, practicing gratitude, reflecting on things I’m proud of, and limiting sugar, salt and processed foods. Whenever I fall off with one of the habits, I have a noticeable drop in my mood, energy and overall effectiveness.
It’s been necessary for me to have people around me that I can trust and get feedback from. I still struggle with asking for help, but the times I've sought out the right help have proven to be super valuable.
Doing something you’re uncertain about means there’s a lot of learning that needs to take place. Reflecting on each experience and each iteration, requesting feedback, listening to podcasts, reading, talking to peers, and getting mentorship from people with more experience has been really important for me. The more I’ve learned, the more I’ve been able to take calculated risks, avoid pitfalls, and connect helpful dots.
It’s also been helpful to keep in mind that uncertainty is a part of life, and there’s risk involved in both following through on something I want to do and in not taking action.