I know a thing or two about uncertainty.
I knew uncertainty the moment my father had a massive heart attack and underwent emergency surgery the week before I was supposed to get married. Consumed by doubts and fear, we cancelled the wedding, which robbed me of my visa to enter Switzerland. Where would I live in the meantime? And did I really want to move so far away forever?
I knew uncertainty when my then-2.5 week old newborn daughter contracted meningitis, a deadly disease known for causing long-term brain damage if it’s not instantly fatal. Hearing her screams as they stuck a long needle into her tiny spine is a torture no mother should ever endure. We were petrified of the outcome, uncertain about the short-term or long-term impacts.
I know uncertainty now, during this global Covid-19 pandemic. Both my husband and I are entrepreneurs: will we still have enough income to support our family? Will our businesses survive? How can we balance customer meetings with two young (screaming) kids at home? How do we protect our aging parents, especially when mine live 6256 km away? Uncertainty awaits us daily. But facing uncertainty is an inevitable part of life. It’s a guaranteed occurrence, just like death and taxes, and will only increase in our 21st century digitalised world. So instead of simply trying to figure out how to survive in uncertainty, I focused on learning how to thrive in uncertainty.
My first step is always to accept what is. I used to waste countless hours putting energy into wanting a better circumstance, an easier answer, or a clearer path. These “poor me” thoughts often consumed and overwhelmed me and filled me with anxiety and hopelessness.
One day a fellow coach shared an analogy with me that changed my life. If you’re driving down the road and you get a flat tyre, what do you do? she asked. I said that I would pull over to the side of the road and get the tyre changed. Right, she agreed. But you definitely wouldn’t take out a knife and slash the other three tyres, right?
Of course I wouldn’t slash the other three tyres; that would be ridiculous! And yet that’s exactly what I was doing every time I faced a particularly difficult and uncertain situation. From that moment on, I promised myself that I would never again slash my own tyres. Instead of focusing on how I felt about the tyre being flat, I made the commitment to be the person who would always focus on finding a way to change the tyre. I’ve learned that acceptance takes away the paralysis I feel when facing uncertainty and it opens up a new freedom of choice for me.
There have been so many “flat tyre” moments for all of us during this pandemic. During the national lockdown was one of my biggest personal tests. At a moment that could have been filled with worry, I chose instead to make the best of our time together as a family. We went for hours-long walks and picnics. We toured museums around the globe through my computer. We baked about a dozen different chocolate cake recipes. We created a world that could work for us. We changed the tyre.
But I also have a strong belief that we shouldn’t just be reactionary to our circumstances. I don’t want to be a person who simply fixes problems that arise; I aspire to be a person who prevents problems from showing up in the first place. I want to be proactive.
That’s why I view the pandemic as an unprecedented opportunity – a gift – that has been given to us. I don’t mean to diminish the devastation of the pandemic and how hard the current situation is. It is hard. And that is why we must make meaning from it; we must find a way to make it serve a greater good. We must see hope everywhere.
I believe this is The Great Reset that the world needed. We were spinning dangerously fast and out of control; the world collectively needed to stop, pause, and reflect on a system we’ve built that honestly wasn’t working. We finally have the space to re-design better businesses, better governments, and better policies. Education and health care are being completely re-imagined for a modernised world. We have been fortunate enough to see movements like Black Lives Matter and the climate crisis finally being taken seriously and real progress being made.
But we’re all human, and I will admit that I don’t always feel strong. In the moments when I struggle the most, I pick up a delicately-carved wooden statue of two people embracing that I keep by my bedside. It assures me that I am not alone. It is a promise that I can trust in myself and others. It encourages me to trust in our shared future. It gives me a certainty and a strength that we can handle anything, together. And it gives me the energy to step up to another day courageously.
This is how I have learned to thrive in uncertainty. I accept what is. I react with calm to solve the problem. And I proactively move to shape the future.
And when I feel lost, I remember: we’re all in this together, and we’ve got this.
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Company & Role:
CEO / Executive Coach
Do you have a single word, colour or image that represents the way you deal with uncertainty?
Eye of the storm.
Context: I imagine a thunderous and violent tornado and just inside the middle is the eye of the storm, where calm, peace, and tranquility reside. The calm in the centre always remains, regardless of where the storm moves. I imagine myself, my character, my beliefs, my purpose give me the ability to always remain in the eye of the storm regardless of what is happening around me.