Learn to be comfortable with the unknownThis is a message to managers, entrepreneurs and decision-makers out there: Learning to be comfortable with not knowing is hard; it’s discomforting and creates fear which can accumulate into stress.
It’s funny, two years ago, I remember telling my grandmother: “I don’t believe in stress” and her laughing at my statement and saying “not stress? It’s impossible not to stress. How can you not stress?”
My grandmother is a strong woman, a master of multi-tasking, and a talented leader; but she stresses a lot due to having many responsibilities. I am usually calm and collected, I can talk about a problem, and people may think I’m stressed because the problem itself sounds stressful... but I am usually calm deep inside.
I may get annoyed or disappointed in the first 5-15 minutes, because I am human, but usually I’m already working on the solution by the 10th minute. This is not a natural talent, it’s a talent I have learned over the years after recognizing that there are factors in this world that we can’t account for and factors we cannot control.
Over the years, I have learned to be comfortable with uncertainty. Besides, I believe things eventually work out...but of course, not with me sitting on my behind.
I have realised that when I stressed about something, my mind and actions get disoriented, and it blurs me from actually getting to a solution.
During times of shock or a challenging situation, I choose to remove my thoughts from thinking about the problem. I recognize the problem but focus on the solution. For example, suppose I forget where I put my phone and I have to immediately leave the house because I need to catch an Uber which I ordered on the phone.
When I panic, I noticed that I get more and more frustrated, which blurs everything around me and chances are—I will not find that phone in time. But several years back, I discovered a trick. In such a situation, I stand still, calm my body and breathing, and focus on the solution... I mentally tell myself “you will find it, you know where it is”. I slow down my breathing, and like clockwork, I will find that phone in seconds.
It works for me, it might work for you.
When dealing with bigger challenges like a corporate deadline or stakeholder mishap, I practice the highest level of Zen. Because again, I have learned that there is no point in freaking out and I have accepted that there was a chance that things could go bad. Eventually things work out, as long as I stay collected and focus on creating the solution.
This is not easy to do, especially when everything or everyone around you keeps reminding you of the problem. Acknowledge the problem, but focus on the solution. What I have learned is that I actually feel the weight of the challenge after the challenge has ended. When you focus on the problem during the challenge, the weight of the problem becomes heavy, and that in turn distracts you from finding the solution or may cause you to make rush decisions.
In conclusion, get comfortable with uncertainty, it’s something we should embrace and not fear. When dealing with small challenges that rise out of uncertainty that have short turnarounds, calm your breathing, and focus on the item or solution you want... don’t even think about the problem. When dealing with large challenges that rise out of uncertainty in a firm; acknowledge the problem and accept that unknown challenges were probable, but focus on the solution, and only refer to the problem to help you craft the solution.
Learning to accept uncertainty and dealing with challenges that result from uncertainty takes practice and discipline, and a whole lot of emotional intelligence. But I know you can do it!
*Twama Nambili is an entrepreneur and strategist. MBA '22, Brandeis University; MSc '17, University of London