How to Cruise through Uncertainty: A Unique Perspective

Uncategorized Apr 20, 2018

My Dad has a rather wild imagination. When I was a kid, he used to make up bedtime stories to tell me - about a “fairy god leg” that floated around granting wishes.

Memorable. I’ll grant you that.

Memorable is what you want when you want to get a message to “stick”. So, when I was preparing a speech to present at a recent conference, I just couldn’t help myself. The topic was something that’s been a recent theme in my own life: uncertainty. My Dad and I had been talking about “going with the flow” - and that’s when he mentioned a dream he’d had.

I should have known better than to ask.

He dreamed about a juicy, perfectly browned, succulent pot roast - you know the kind that just flakes apart? So tender, you don’t even need to cut? Only he was the pot roast. And he was floating down a stream.

Yup.

And in the dream, when he struggled against the current - fought where it was trying to take him - you guessed it, he started to fall apart.

I dare you to “unstick” that image now.

I couldn’t. So when I was looking for stories to weave through my speech, guess what kept coming up in my mind? Never mind that I’d spent 20 years in the news business, which usually gives me a treasure trove of stories to share. Nothing hit the mark. The pot roast it had to be.

It was partly because I had sort of adopted the pot roast as a mantra to handle the past year or so - a time in my life when my future was entirely out of my hands.

My husband had accepted a position in Europe and my younger son and I were supposed to join him when my oldest finished high school. I was going to wrap up my business, and rent out our home. Then Brexit happened. That dramatically impacted the outlook in Europe. And things weren’t quite working out as planned with the position, so we put our moving plans on hold until we figured out what the next step would be. And I kept putting one foot in front of the other on the home and work front, with no clear direction except just getting through the “next three month” chunks. Our entire family really learned what being “flexible” really means.

That’s when I started my daily chant of “be the pot roast” - to keep myself sane.

So what’s it like to “be the pot roast”, floating down a stream? Well you spend a lot of time staring up at the blue sky above - focused solely on the present - not knowing what’s around the corner. It could be a gentle current, or rapids, or even a waterfall. No way to prepare. It can be scary. Or you can relax into it. Your choice.

And sometimes the current steers you into a little eddy where you seemed to spin around in an aimless circle - waiting - for whatever’s going to happen next. You can see it as a little respite. Or end up feeling stuck, helpless and impatient.

Know that feeling?

Often we find ourselves there waiting for someone else’s final answer that will either finally deposit us safely on the bank of the stream - ready to start a new life - or, be pushed back into the current again. In our case, there were a few times we were pushed into one of those little eddies and we’d spin and spin, and wonder and wait, until the news would break and once again we’d find ourselves bobbing back into the current, on course again for an unknown destination.

Now, you’d think that anyone in their right mind would keep to herself a bizarre mantra like “be the pot roast”. I mean - do whatever it takes to get you through rough times, but no one really needs to know the details.

Not me.

As a public speaker, I feel compelled to share little nuggets like these.

So, yes. I indeed made that the theme of my speech (and now the focus of this blog). What I shared with the rather bemused conference crowd I’ll boil down here. The three top tips to successfully “be the pot roast” and cruise through uncertainty.

  • Stay loose, but keep it together - so you don’t fall apart. When life fast-tracks us onto a path filled with uncertainty, our tendency is to tense up and freak out. It feels uncomfortable and scary and we want to fight back. But that’s how we end up getting pulled apart. So we need to stay loose and go with the flow. To keep it together. For as long as it takes. Until the future reveals itself.

 

  • Keep your eye on the prize - but focus on what’s in front of you. We’ve already established that when you’re a pot roast floating down a stream, you can’t see what’s around the next corner. So how can you keep your eye on the prize? It has to do with looking up into that big blue sky and imagining where you’ll eventually end up. Opening your mind to the possibilities of where life could lead. We usually can’t design the details of our future - what job we’ll get, how much we’ll be paid, and what our day to day lives will look like. But we can imagine different futures and strategize and dream. In the meantime, all we really can control is how we handle what’s happening right in front of us. Tackling the here and now. Choosing to frame things positively or negatively. Each little twist and turn offers us opportunities to act and react in ways that will get us, eventually, to our “prize”: the end of uncertainty. To the next chapter of our lives.

 

  • Grow stronger - by giving in. Again, it may sound counterintuitive, because giving in is usually viewed as a sign of weakness, but you can find tremendous strength in yielding to the power of uncertainty. Letting go of fixed ideas and of control is often what leads us down paths we never would have imagined - as most creatives and innovators will tell you. And it can take some of the pressure we put ourselves under - off! Holding onto expectations and assumptions can really pull us apart. Letting them go always seems to leads to surprising plot twists and we end up far more resilient, as a bonus.

Oh yes, and I mentioned Brexit.

Obviously, in just the past few weeks - following the election surprise - the level of uncertainty about what the future will look like for the UK (and frankly rest of the globe) has skyrocketed. In fact one author raised the level to “acute” uncertainty.

But here too is another chance to thrive, if a population can seize the opportunities uncertainty offers. What opportunities? (I can hear the doubters among you.) Some are best summarized in a blog I recently read on Forum for the Future:

  • Uncertainty offers a chance “stimulate flexibility and rapid learning needed to adapt when one strategy works and another one doesn’t”.
  • Uncertainty provides “an opportunity to really understand the root causes” of whatever’s not working for us and an opportunity to transform.
  • Uncertainty provides an opportunity for “purposeful and egoless” leadership - that can try “radically different ways of doing things that take people with them”.

The author makes a point about that feeling we ‘oh-so-human’ beings often get - the one I mentioned in the beginning, of having a knee jerk reaction when we face the gut-churning reality of uncertainty. She blames it on a cultural “craving for certainty”. Beware. 

If we indulge our "craving for certainty", we are definitely not “being the pot roast”.

And be warned: it’s not as easy as it sounds. This can all make sense on paper, and then when you find yourself being carried along by the current to parts unknown you start to feel that gnawing in your stomach. You might give in to a little tantrum or meltdown or knee jerk reaction. We’ve seen it played out on social media in Britain. And on my personal journey with uncertainty, my poor dog has witnessed some of my not-so-proud, but private, breakdowns.

Just remember, as challenging as uncertainty may be and as vulnerable as it may make you feel, it does eventually end. Most of us - individuals and societies - do get to enjoy more stable periods, eventually.

In the meantime, I hope my somewhat ridiculous but memorable mantra helps you cruise through the worst of your uncertain times. Remember: Stay loose but keep it together. Keep your eye on the prize but focus on what’s in front of you. And grow stronger by giving in. Paradoxical as the ideas are, they work. I know firsthand.

Simply “be the pot roast”, my friends...

 

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