Strategies for Paradox in times of uncertainty
Confronting the tension between certainty and uncertainty in life
Life is a paradox
When the world came to a complete standstill this year, what may have come to the surface is the contrary nature of your life. You thought you were moving or making progress but, you’re not. You are stuck in a mundane routine, taking 1 step forward and two steps back.
You thought everything was good but, the lock-down has shown you that it’s not. Your family is a mess, your career is a dead end and your finances are beyond strained. You thought your career would last into your retirement but, this disruption has brought so much into perspective now that you are unemployed.
You thought you could see but, you have been blind to the world around you. This is because like most human beings you’ve always chosen to see what you want to see and filter out the noise. Everything seemed certain in the comfort of a working system but, uncertainty has crept in as the world stopped. And now your future is unclear.
To survive and make it through this time you have 3 interconnected choices you can:
- Embrace the tension between two contradictory states, where you are now and where you could be tomorrow if you decide to change.
- Amplify the paradoxes of your life so that you can deal with the incumbent and impending change much better.
- Choose to live and find ways to thrive in the tension of present needs and future desires.
In essence you need strategy to deal with and manage the paradoxes you are facing in life.
Strategy 1: Develop an Overarching Identity
You need to realize that you are more than what you do. The sum total of who you are is more than what you do or did between 8 and 5. You have more potential than the skill-sets you use/used at work. Like many people in this world, you have a narrow view of what you define as skill. You have had a narrow view of what you can offer the world. But, this time has shown that you have more skills at our disposal than you thought. You carry far more talent than you give yourself credit for. And in the quiet solitude of a noisy home you have a chance to discover a much deeper and more meaningful identity.
You need to find mission-critical purpose that transcends your job description. As I look at those who are at the front-lines of the pandemic and many who have to make critical life and death decisions, it becomes apparent that to live or work by a job description is insufficient. Nurses and Doctors are more than just medical practitioners they are lifesavers. They wake up every morning to tend to people with different conditions and their actions have the potential to save a life.
- Do you have a compelling identity and vision that embraces more than just your work?
- Are you capable of embracing who you are at present whilst simultaneously embracing change in the future?
Strategy 2: Keep the tension in your mind
Embrace the tension between what you know and what you don’t. Uncertain times bring with them a lot of fear and anxiety. You don’t have to feel uneasy especially when you accept that there will always be things outside your control and realm of understanding. Sometimes it is okay to be out of control, because it reveals what you have to learn or unlearn. So challenge your current logic with some creative and imaginative thinking.
You thought that the world was okay and now you’re realizing that it isn’t. You don’t have to try and reason out why, you can embrace the reality and imagine ways you can change and grow. If the old way of doing things is obsolete it does not mean you are obsolete, it only means the way you thought before may be redundant and you need to learn how to think differently.
Imagine you are like a ship at sea. It is good to accept that you will never be able to control the sea but, you can control the ship. At times you may need to anchor in the storm and get battered. The paradox here is that the pressure makes you feel like you need to move forward but, the best decision would be to hold still. And at other times you will need to control the rudder and steer your ship away from rocky waters. You can’t count on the anchor, you can’t leave the ship to ride the current or be carried by the wind, you need to steer. You are the captain at the helm and your decision matters.
- Do you own your time and life and you taking responsibility for your decisions?
- Are you afraid of change or taking risks?
- Who is your worst critic? If it is your mind… what is the worst thing you say to yourself?
- Are you aware of what you need to do to change course or to redirect yourself back to where you want to go?
Strategy 3: Embrace inconsistency
Whenever you make the decision to change, things will be irregular. New thinking will always be difficult because it will look messy and inconsistent. Like any other human being, you are a creature of habit so, it is difficult to learn something new and much harder to accept you will be like a baby learning to walk. On some days any attempt will lead to failure and on others things will go very well.
Accept that life will be unpredictable. You cannot predict or determine how it will play out. Doing new things means taking a risk that things won’t happen the way you expect. Your efforts will look shoddy, you may be rejected or denied or it might just be down right stupid to start with.
- Do you judge your potential the same way you judge your current competence and skill?
- Are you in a hurry to change and do you want big bang results?
- Are you investing resources and time in the new thing appropriately?
Strategy 4: 2 steps forward and one step back
Accept and acknowledge those small progressive steps towards change and towards something new. You can change the idiom and motivate yourself to take smaller and more incremental steps forward. Change is not always as fast as you expect it to be
Whenever you see a baby crawling or taking its first steps, you get excited. But why do you criticize your first attempts to change? Unbeknownst to us the baby may have a self-critical thought at work but, the baby keeps trying. There is something in the human spirit you need to trigger to tell yourself to keep trying. It is the liberated, creative and adventurous brain of an 8 year old. Develop a level of curiousness beyond what you think is critically possible. Embrace the winds of change with childlike faith.
- Anticipate tomorrow: by writing stuff down especially what you hope for. Uncertainty is anything outside of your control and risk is the measure of what you are willing to sacrifice to change.
- Prepare for tomorrow: by doing something about it and setting small attainable goal you can accomplish.
- Initiate tomorrow: engage in deliberate small actions the lead you forward whilst managing what you do in the present.
Finally, remember change is inevitable
- If you decide to do nothing about tomorrow, it is a decision.
- Change can be like your worst nightmare or it can be your sweetest dream, its all a matter of perspective. You cannot avoid it, so it is better to embrace it and take it in your stride.
- Be realistic about what it will take or cost. Optimism is great and it will serve you well in life. What can be better in times of profound paradox, is a nice blend of hope, optimism and realism. You will not get the results you are expecting the first time but, you will certainly have moved forward and taken steps to change.
- Accept that you won’t be as good at the very beginning. So become an amateur again. The word amateur comes from the Latin word amare which means to be a lover of something. Its wonderful to find or rediscover your love for something.