Few places are as uncomfortable for me as being in the in-between of things. It doesn’t matter what kind of in-between—fitness, career, health, learning a new skill, new seasons on Netflix.
I am great when things are going really well—naturally—and I am an expert at handling crises. But dealing with uncertainty and lots of unknowns… well, sometimes that can be a giant pain in the butt.
You see, I am a planner, a do-er, an achiever, and when the best action I can take is to continue doing the things and wait sometimes I can get a little antsy.
I don’t think I am the only one. I believe we, humans, are naturally wired to want to understand what’s coming next so we can A) have a plan and B) survive. So when we are dealing with unknowns, our brains are going crazy (at least mine is) to try and figure out how to make a plan to deal with it.
My old-school thinking used to scream at me to just figure it out as soon as possible or, even worse, avoid uncertainty at all costs. And while that made me an incredibly agile problem solver and extremely appreciated at work it also prevented me from taking really big risks.
Over the years I’ve gotten a lot better at dealing with uncertainty and in-betweens. It’s been incremental, and I’ve been able to practice it in many areas of my life. I’ve learned that by focusing on doing the things and taking action vs. focusing on trying to control a desired outcome, things work out just fine.
I am also realizing that no matter how much experience I have with dealing with unknowns, the fear doesn’t go away. I just get better at handling it. And because of this, I am more willing to take on bigger risks.
Earlier this year I took a giant leap and left a comfortable, steady job in order to pursue things that I am passionate about. I knew this wasn’t going to be easy, and I carefully studied my options, the consequences and what it would take. After months of planning, consulting, dreaming (and freaking out!) I decided to take the plunge and do it. I can tell you wholeheartedly it’s one of the best decisions I have ever made.
Naturally, I knew something like this would mean handling many unknowns and staying in the in-between for much longer than I am used to. I knew that no matter how prepared, enthusiastic and determined I am, walking uncharted territory could be challenging at best, terrifying at worst. I also knew that nothing great has ever been born out of comfort, and that if my experience had shown me anything, was that taking risks always pays off.
For the most part, it’s been a fantastic ride. I’ve been inspired, challenged, moved and excited pretty much on a daily basis. But every now and then, I get a little nudge from my cave-woman brain that reminds me “we need to figure things out or else we will most certainly die a terrible death.”
In those moments, the best thing I can do is first, acknowledge nobody is dying or will die anytime soon from not knowing. Secondly, I remember to become friends with fear and uncertainty. I don’t try to avoid it or ignore it (although I really want to). Instead, I try to get reminders of why I am doing this in the first place. Without a strong why it simply won’t make sense for me to continue.
If you ever plan to take on risks (and for everything you do in life, really) I strongly encourage you to identify your whys.
Most of the time that little exercise is all I need. Other times I write, draw or talk to someone in my support system that can give me a little nudge to get myself back on track. Most of those people are on similar paths as me and understand that great things involve risk. And risks are inevitably accompanied by fear and uncertainty.
I believe this to be true: I have a choice. I can go back to where I was. It’s familiar and comfortable. There are little to no unknowns, but doesn’t necessarily make me happy.
Or I can continue on the path I am on.
In this path, there are a lot of things to figure out, almost all of it new. But I know it’s taking me to better places and I have the opportunity to learn a lot.
I am passionate about this path so this is how I want to live my life.
Whether we take risks or not, nothing is certain. We can’t avoid discomfort entirely. So why not use that to do what we’ve always wanted to do anyway?
Author: Angie Coates
Editor: Katarina Tavčar
Photo: Philippe Put/Flickr