Have you heard the latest predictions for the future? It seems to be all the talk on the news. We all want to know the future. We want to know about all kinds of things and here are some common ones that show up year after year.
How long will the pandemic last? What will the stock market do? What role will I have at my work? Will I get a raise? When will my boss leave? Will I get promoted? Who will win the Superbowl? Who will win the next political race? How long will I live? What happens when you die?
All of these important questions have one thing in common: the answer. Nobody really knows. In fact, to quote the late great Jack Bogle, (founder of Vanguard), “Nobody Knows Nothing.” You would think that the founder of one of the largest and most well-respected investing mutual fund companies and founder of index investing would have something to say about the financial markets and year after year, he was clear that all we can do is guess. Did your guess turn out to be true? Then most likely you were lucky. His point was that you must watch out for people, including yourself, who claim to be wiser and smarter than everyone else and somehow able to predict the future.
“We live in such uncertain times” is a phrase that I hear from various “pundits” who try to gain followers and viewers every day. Indeed, it is true that we live in uncertain times. However, here’s the thing- it’s ALWAYS TRUE. There is nothing unique about now. When life seems to be going our way, we live under the illusion that everything is fine and predictable because we feel fine. However, there is always some unexpected event that is going to occur or is occurring. We can make it harder on ourselves when we look to the past and try and make sense of today. There is no risk in the past and it is easy to study backwards and have things look obvious. We should have seen “it” coming. The past feels much less scary since it is already “predictable”.
We humans just cannot stand uncertainty. Any time there is uncertainty, we try to get rid of it and our emotions, such as fear, worry and anxiety fan the flames for our need to know. This desire for knowing leaves us vulnerable to misinformation, poor decision making and plenty of financial rip-offs and other shenanigans. We look for solace in data, experts, predictors and today’s equivalent of sorcerers and sword swallowers.
So what’ a leader to do? Perhaps you are leading people that are asking why, what, when? Maybe you are asking the same questions? Just because the future is not certain, does not mean that we cannot have an impact on it. What we do today, impacts our tomorrow and although things can change, why not give yourself the best shot at a great future while improving yourself right now?
I would like to offer you 5 strategies to help you navigate and lead through uncertainty.
- Acknowledge It: Start with basic acceptance of what is true. We don’t know. You don’t know. Nobody knows. Trying to get rid of it will only bring more uncertainty and anxiety or perhaps disappointment. “Nobody knows nothing”
- Have Faith: You have the tools to handle uncertainty. Here’s the difference between any uncertainty that you are possibly feeling now and times when you didn’t feel that there was uncertainty- awareness. Sure, there are things that we don’t know about the future. Please keep in mind that we NEVER know for sure. We think we know and of course, not everything is up in the air all the time. And, anything can happen on any day. Have faith in yourself and those around you.
- Be Mindful of Now: Focus on the present to fend off anxiety. Anxiety is our response to a negative future that we have created in our mind- a future that we hope never happens. Focus on right now, the people in front of you, the work in front of you. Put your phone far away and stop looking at the news.
- Vision and Goals: Just because we don’t know the future, doesn’t mean that we should not have a direction for our future. Leaders must still have a vision- a place to look towards in work and life. Clarity around vision and goals are imperative for you as a leader to set and share with those that you lead and impact. Unnecessary ambiguity is not helpful. Give people, (including yourself) a sense of where you’re going and how to get there. Even if you don’t fully get to the big goals, if they cause you to grow and develop as a person and a leader, then they are worthy goals. As Abraham Lincoln once said “The most reliable way to predict the future is to create it.”
- Grow: Focus on you and your own improvement: No matter what the future holds, the better prepared you are to handle future challenges then the better your future outcome. Building your skill set, including your attitude, adds to the value that you can bring to your life, your organization and of course the world. Your own personal development is also something that you can control. Another benefit to improvement- you’ll feel better You’ll feel better about yourself, your situation, and your future. Small incremental improvements lead to big change. Identify some things that you want to learn and start working on them. Identify relationships that are important to you and nurture them as well. Help others grow too. Nobody gets to where they are alone.
There is something that I want you to all know and it’s about yourself. You’ve been through difficult times in your life. You are surrounded by others who have made it through tough times. You’ve also had many celebrations in your life. Please keep in mind that you are a leader, and you can always practice how you respond to any situation, challenge or opportunity. Leadership is practice and so is your response to life. Celebrate the triumphs. Keep moving through the difficulties. Heal from the injuries. You can recover. Focus on everyday small wins.
Do I sound negative? I hope not. My intention is to offer you inspiration. The search and longing for certainty is the agent of fear. Focus on what you can do. Set your vision. Support yourself and others and always do your best. No matter what happens, keep faith that you can and will not only get through, but learn through. All of this experience will go directly into your leadership and learning skills account. Keep learning, practicing and leading. It’s OK not to know everything. Focus on doing your best and let that lead you to your own masterpiece.
So here are my predictions. There will be unexpected challenging times. There will be great joys and surprises. Some humans will disappoint you. Some humans will delight you beyond your wildest expectations. The world will keep turning. The sun will come up tomorrow. Tomorrow will come. I will see you there.
Thank you for reading, sharing and learning. I wish you all the strength, support, and growth as you continue to lead yourself in your life and your world.
Your coach, fan, and friend.
Larysa Slobodian, MA
Executive Coach and Leadership Consultant