Getting Cosy with Uncertainty

Uncertainty is everywhere, how on earth do we get comfortable with it?

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Uncertainty is something I have struggled with over the years, and from my conversations with friends and clients, I suspect I am not alone.  What I mean by uncertainty, is the feeling of discomfort when I don’t know what’s going to happen, or I feel I don’t know enough about a situation.

In the past when I have taken on new roles at work, I struggled with the discomfort of “not knowing what I should know”.  I generally overcompensated by working really hard until I felt more expert.  Just reflecting on the language that I have used there, you can see that these situations were riddled with assumptions.  “What I should know” assumes that it’s not okay to ask questions, or that other people already know the answers, and it assumes that I need to know everything in order to do my job well.  When I look back, I realise that if I had shed those assumptions, and asked more questions, and been more comfortable with knowing less than others, I could have taken a more relaxed approach to my new roles, and probably would have learned more quickly.

When my children were born, I knew enough about the uncertainties of childbirth not to rely on a “birth plan”.  However I still struggled trying to get my children to nap and to sleep at night.  After initially avoiding reading too many books, I ended up desperately asking everyone for advice, but getting no nearer to getting my own children to sleep.  Of course they did eventually, and when I look back my striving was as much about wanting to find a “solution” as it was about fighting fatigue.  With young children everything is unknown, and the challenges change on a daily basis, and I found this very challenging.

In the past year I left the security of a salaried job, to pursue a second career as a life coach.  Several people told me I was brave.  I resisted this description because I have been following my dreams, so this felt like an easy decision.  However I recognise that by leaving my secure job I have plunged myself into the realm of uncertainty.  In my more vulnerable moments thoughts such as “will it work out?” or “have I done the right thing?” have crept in.

The only person who can answer these questions is me.  And only time will tell.  What has become clear to me is that there is no such thing as certainty.  It’s a mirage.  By leaving my secure job I have become more aware of uncertainty, but uncertainty was always there, I just didn’t acknowledge it.  I could have stayed in my old job, but then developed a serious illness, or been made redundant or any number of other situations could have arisen.

Recognising that certainty is a mirage has been quite liberating.  I realise that looking for certainty is about trying to manage my fear.  I have needed to accept that at times I feel fearful, and that I don’t know the answers.  I have spent time thinking about this, and learned to notice when I feel fearful in my body.  This gives me clues and helps me recognise when I am procrastinating, or over-complicating things – a sure sign that I feel fearful about something and need to either get some advice, or just “name the fear” and push on past it.  Instead of avoiding fear or pretending it isn’t there, I can talk to close friends (which I find comforting), or I can harness the energy behind the fear and turn it into excitement.

Sometimes my clients will ask me – “What should I do?  How do I know if this is the right thing to do?”  The most honest answer I could give is “Only you can know what you want to do.  You can’t know for sure if it is the right thing, but you can always change direction if you find this isn’t right for you”.  I encourage my clients to start trusting their own judgement, by learning to listen to their thoughts and also their bodies, which give a lot of clues as to what we are feeling.  Of course we can also take sensible precautions, such as making a clear financial plan, and ensuring that our loved ones still have somewhere to live, but we don’t have to let uncertainty stifle the possibilities.

Searching for certainty drains our energy, and ultimately is an impossible goal.  For me the energising choice is to grab uncertainty by the horns and make it my ally! 

Nicola Harker

Coach and Mentor (ex-doctor) and teacher of Self-Compassion, Nicola Harker Coaching

Using neuroscience, self-compassion techniques and coaching as well as high-performance techniques I help my clients free their potential and get back to their true selves so that they can thrive in life.