Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Dealing with Uncertainty

This evening I spoke with someone who is in the midst of making some big life decisions. They may be relocating, they may be making a big career change, their financial situation is likely to change dramatically, they have plenty of people depending on them, and all in all, they're facing a great deal of uncertainty. As someone who doesn't always handle uncertainty with a great deal of grace herself, the thought of being put in such a position is enough to make me clam up, shut down, crawl into bed and wish to never emerge. But there is one trick I recently picked up that really helps when you are facing an ambiguous future; spend some time focusing on the things that ARE certain.

For someone who breaks a sweat at even life's most mundane of decision points (7th Generation paper towels or 365 house brand?) it's easy to spiral into a repetitive, unproductive loop of "what ifs" when it comes time to make choices that really matter. Before you know it, your envisioning hundreds of alternate future selves. You can't begin to make a decision with so many unknowns. You begin to focus all of your energy on the factors you are unsure of - I don't know where I'll live, I don't know what the people will be like, I don't know how long I'll be happy with my decision... You may even point your laser of uncertainty on the past - questioning choices that have long been put to rest, doubting the moves you've made, blaming yourself for not handling situations the way you would in retrospect...

Stop. Focus on what you are sure of. Do you have a degree in molecular biology? That's fantastic! No one can ever take that away from you. Does your love of the opera give you reason to go on living? How lucky you are to have found such a longstanding passion! Do you have a family you would give anything to stay close to? 5 years of professional experience? A closet full of clothes that fit? A voracious appetite for reading with more than 600 titles under your belt? A devoted lover? Are you fluent in French or conversational in Cantonese?

It doesn't matter what it is you are sure of so much as that you are willing and able to recognize those constants. When you give yourself permission to take stock of the things that are certain, you'll find a much more stable base from which you can face the exciting future ahead. When you make this paradigm shift, you may find a sense of renewed confidence, discover an important decision making factor you previously discounted, or maybe just find enough of a break from the internal dialogue of anarchy that you finally catch your breath. In any case, you will be much better suited to make a rational decision - and remain sane - when you take the time to consider the steadfast certainties in your life in addition to the thrilling uncertainties to come.

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