I had the opportunity recently to reflect on how my work life is different now I am running my own business compared to working in a large corporation. The biggest difference is uncertainty. In my corporate role, I understood the game I was playing and I was good at it. In return I was rewarded well, and perhaps more importantly, I knew what to expect. I set annual goals, coordinated action to achieve them, I would get an annual performance review and I knew when and how I would be rewarded. To be fair, a lot of things were unknown, for example how was I going to achieve my goals, how would things work, etc, but the extent of my uncertainty was bounded.
Increasing uncertainty by 10x
Developing my own business feels very different. In many respects I am a beginner; I have to learn the skills of sales and marketing, become comfortable with networking and how to create a start-up business that will be profitable and scalable. My level of uncertainty is 10x what I experienced in my corporate role and it is very easy to wish I had that level of certainty again.
At the same time, I also see the uncertainty in my life gives me something I haven’t had in a long time. That is possibility. Uncertainty and possibility are directly linked. The higher the level of uncertainty, the greater the possibilities. When my world is certain, I know what to do, how to be and my level of curiosity is low. I follow my habits because they are familiar and comfortable. I don’t embrace the unknown, in fact I shy away from it and embrace the world of the routine.
The trap of knowing
Possibility shows up for me unexpectedly. I don’t see it coming and reflecting back I recognize I could not have predicted it. Some of the best opportunities that have come my way have arisen from circumstances that have defied common sense and logic. This has been an important learning. I don’t have to understand something for it happen, it is an easy trap to fall into.
Deep down I believe we all strive for certainty and understanding. It is human nature and yet we live in a world that is uncertain. What does the future hold? We don’t know because it hasn’t played out yet. The challenge we face is getting the balance right. Introducing enough uncertainty to see how our world is changing and become aware of new possibilities. And maintaining enough certainty to give us the confidence to be at our best without constantly living with the contracting emotions of fear and anxiety.
Take small steps
So how do we do this? I don’t recommending taking a big leap and throwing caution to the wind, that is just being reckless. Instead, take small steps that are non-threatening. This allows us to remain curious and confident. Here are some small steps you can try.
- Extend your professional network. Be curious and connect with people who you ordinarily would not meet to learn about what they are doing and why. Doing this will energize your creative muscles. Much innovation comes from making connections that have not been noticed before.
- Volunteer for a project that exposes you to something different where you can also leverage your existing skills. This could be within your company or external, for example as part of a trade or industry association.
- Commit to learn a new skill. This could be a professional skill or a hobby. The act of becoming a beginner is very powerful in itself. It helps you become more comfortable with not knowing and even having to ask for help.
- Visit a new place or community. I was lucky to spend some time in Africa with tribal groups and I gained incredible insight about the simplicity of life. I also became involved in the Portland homeless community and that helped me gain a greater level of gratitude for what I have.
These are just a few of many possible ideas. Whatever you decide to do, remember the goal is to continually push your limits to the extent it feels uncomfortable but not to a level that generates a high level of anxiety.
What are you going to do this year to open up your world of possibilities?