becoming comfortable with uncertainty

Becoming comfortable with uncertainty

This blog post had been in my bank of ideas for a while, and now seems like a fitting time to write it. In case you’re reading this years later or have been living under a rock, right now we’re in the middle of the corona virus crisis. Corona what? Basically, a “flu like” virus that’s gone rogue and is causing havoc (don’t quote me on that scientific description). For a humorous interpretation see the below (in French)

But back to serious business, we are now collectively going through a time of uncertainty. And that can be scary, so what can you do to deal with it?

Sunset in Amsterdam

In order to share some relevant tips, first I have to share a bit of my story. Truth be told, three years ago I don’t think I’d have been able to write this post. In fact, I think I’d be experiencing this situation very differently. Instead, I feel mostly grounded, calm, optimistic… Because this too shall pass. It’s hard to explain how or why I am able to feel this way, but I know that this is me, coping with uncertainty.

How I became comfortable with uncertainty

It didn’t happen overnight. I didn’t used to like change, and like most people, I didn’t like uncertainty either. I was afraid of stepping out of my comfort zone and making up a lot of excuses for why I couldn’t do so. But thanks to coaching, I got to a place where I felt ready for change and the next step in my life. That’s how I ended up quitting my job without having another one, perhaps my first step in the journey of uncertainty two years ago.

My first experience of uncertainty was not knowing when or if I would find a new job. But I decided to take my chances: I was exhausted by my agency job and was ready for the next step in my career. I also knew I wanted to leave Switzerland and thought that being jobless might be the extra fire under my ass that I needed. In hindsight my first step of being comfortable with uncertainty, was choosing it for myself.

Then I moved to Amsterdam and uprooted my whole life in a very short amount of time. I had to move to a city where I knew no one, the housing market was crazy and thus it started. I just had to have faith that I was going to find a place to live. Secondly, my job was at a startup which in and of itself is an environment filled with uncertainty and change – and was only a year long contract. Last but not least, it was a bit hit and miss as to whether I was going to like the city, make friends and be able to make a new life for myself in my thirties.

The skies of Amsterdam

Luckily I fell in love with Amsterdam (moving during a heatwave helped a lot) and managed relatively quickly to make friends and find a community. I’m eternally grateful to the people at Impraise for making me feel welcome and part of a family since day one. But the uncertainty didn’t end there…

Moving apartments and becoming a freelancer

About 3 months into my stay in Amsterdam it turned out I would have to move apartments. Once again I was faced with uncertainty: would I be able to find a place that met my criteria? And in the allocated amount of time? I’m not going to lie those were stressful months, at times I felt lonely, worried, and a bit out of place in this new life. But luckily I felt very supported by my friends which helped me to get through.

Now repeat the above experience twice more. You read that right, after moving in to what I thought was my new home in the Pijp, I found out I had to move AGAIN. I moved into temporary accommodation twice before finally moving into my permanent home where I am now. To top it all off, I found out that my job contract wasn’t going to be renewed. I think I pretty much reached the pinnacle of uncertainty!

It was HARD. After that I ended up becoming self-employed, once again something completely unplanned that just “happened”. It turns out that it’s super easy to register as a one person business in the Netherlands, and there’s a lot of work for freelancers in marketing/communications. So while it wasn’t my first choice, I ended up embracing it.

There were moments of doubt and moments of panic. More than once I’ve asked myself “what if I end up jobless and homeless”? But I made it, and here I am writing this blog post.

The fact is, despite the moments of panic, for the most part I was calm and had faith it would work out. I saw the positive side of things, and opportunities in the hand I had been dealt. Today my approach to the current crisis is much the same. I feel optimistic, I see the silver lining, and what can be created. I’m not ignoring or downplaying the situation (for the haters out there), I’m simply taking it in my stride rather than letting it steam roll me. So without further ado, here are my tips to help you become more comfortable with uncertainty.

Tips for coping with uncertainty

  • Take things one day at a time. This may sound corny, or you might be thinking “impossible!” but in my experience this is one of the best ways to manage uncertainty. No one can predict the future, so why worry about something you cannot see or know? Often we get caught up by thinking far into the future, weeks or months ahead and worrying about what things will be like. This is where uncertainty prevents us from planning and moving forward. But if you take things one day and step at a time, it becomes easier. You will stop being so focused on the future and more present in the moment. You will be able to enjoy what’s currently happening and not be blocked by the giant “IFs” of the future. I also realized that no planning things due to uncertainty was holding me back from enjoying life. For example: I want to book a holiday but I’m not sure if I’ll be able to get the time off, have the money, someone will be free to go with me… If I kept wait for all those conditions to be met I’d never go. That also helped me to accept part of the unknown.
  • Know what’s out of your control and let it go. A lot of our struggles with uncertainty are because we want to control our environment and what happens to us. Essentially, we’re trying to control the future. Of course it makes sense to want to maintain control over our lives (you’d be mad not to), but it’s super important to recognize what we cannot control. A lot of what’s in the future is exactly that, we can only make plans and shape the direction in which we’re going, there’s a nuance there. Recognize that you cannot control: the weather, other people, whether a company goes out of business or a restaurant closes… And that’s ok. Once you realize that you cannot control those things, focus your energy elsewhere.
  • Trust and have faith. I know this is very abstract but you have to have faith that things are going to work out and be ok. The more you trust that things will work out, the more likely it is they will. Of course don’t take this as a guarantee that having blind faith means everything will turn out for the best. But being confident helps you ride the wave of uncertainty without panicking about worst case scenarios.
  • Build your resilience. Resilience is essential for coping with uncertainty, it’s learning to overcome difficulties and building on it each time. The amazing thing is, you’ve actually overcome a lot more than you think, and this is part of you “resilience bank”. The more resilient you are, the more you’ll realize what you’re capable of coping with, based on previous experiences. Next time you’re faced with uncertainty, remind yourself that you’ve got this!
  • Be positive. This is key especially when faced with uncertainty. Because you don’t know what’s going to happen, it’s important to be optimistic or positive where possible. I’m not saying to turn bad things into positive ones or be blind to reality. But certainly imagining the worst case scenario won’t help you, on the contrary it will increase anxiety and fear, and it is well known that fear is bad for you. Instead focus on the small things, the positive moments you’re experiencing and about other nice moments you can look forward to. Use this positive energy to tide you through the difficult times.
  • Practice gratitude. Again this may sound a bit “woowoo” to some of you but I do believe it’s an efficient way of focusing on the present and cultivating awareness of what you have. This will help you to stop thinking and worrying so much about the future, which is uncertain. It can seem difficult to practice gratitude, partly because we take a lot for granted: like having a roof over our heads. Take time to think about things like being able to eat healthily, having a job, a partner, close friends… Whatever it may be that makes you happy and you’re grateful for. If need be, you can even create a list you can return to. Personally I feel that it helps put things into perspective.
  • Be creative. Remember that creativity is a skill that can be learned, it’s not something you’re born with or not. If you’re faced with more time on your hands (like we are now), perhaps it’s time to pick up a new skill or practice your creativity. This can be good for several reasons: first of all, it’s keeping your mind busy. Second, your creative outlet might be a way of expressing your emotions or can help you cope with what you’re going through. Creativity might also spark new ways of thinking that make you see things in a new light, all of which could reframe your relationship with the uncertainty.
  • Have a strong support circle. This one is so important! When I was experiencing doubt, they were there to lift me up. Most importantly, when I was questioning my choices they were there to encourage me, remind me that I was making the right decisions, and keep pushing me. I couldn’t have done it without the support and faith of my incredible friends. Especially when I was having meltdowns, their words of reassurance helped me get through it. When you are struggling with uncertainty and its implications, you need to be able to lean on someone, or several people. It could be as simple as someone offering to put you up, or opening their network to you. No matter what it is you have to know someone’s got your back. This will definitely help alleviate the anxiety about uncertainty.

I’d like to point out that I wasn’t good at any of these before. For example: I used to be really negative, constantly complaining about life (thank you to those who put up with me). I used to get angry, upset and frustrated at things that were out of my control, wasting so much energy on them. I also found it really hard to just “trust” and be in the moment, if you’d told me that a few years ago I’d have looked at you like:

Basically these things take practice. Like I said in the beginning it won’t happen overnight. You have to put in the time to consciously become aware of your thoughts, then change them. It may seem difficult, intangible and frustrating but you have to push through.

No one likes uncertainty, even once you learn to cope with it that doesn’t mean it’s a walk in the park and you’re cool with everything being up in the air. But the good news is, it IS possible to improve, to become more comfortable with, and to learn new ways of thinking. Ever heard of neuroplasticity?

I hope this helps and you become a bit more comfortable with uncertainty.

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Currently working in marketing and comms in Amsterdam. Passionate about all things digital, writing, dancing, travelling and much more. Mental health blogger and advocate.

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