All of us face uncertainty in our lives. Working with startup companies, as I have done for several years, can be particularly uncertain. The last few months have been especially uncertain for the companies I work with, which has led me to think a lot about how to deal with uncertainty.
The following 4 strategies have helped my sanity in the face of uncertainty.
1. Don’t suffer from things that haven’t happened
It is important to anticipate and plan for the future, but sometimes this causes us to suffer from things that haven’t even happened yet. I like Mark Twain’s quote, "I've lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.”
We live today, not in the future.
D. Todd Christofferson addresses this topic well in an address he gave called, "Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread.” He relates the experience of the Children of Israel in the wilderness. They were able to survive because the Lord gave them manna daily. They weren’t able to gather extra for the future. They had to live for today and trust that more manna would appear tomorrow.
He tells the story from the book and movie, Lone Surviver, and quotes a senior officer speaking during the intense Navy SEAL training.
“First of all,” he said, “I do not want you to give in to the pressure of the moment. Whenever you’re hurting bad, just hang in there. Finish the day. Then, if you’re still feeling bad, think about it long and hard before you decide to quit. Second, take it one day at a time. One [phase] at a time.
“Don’t let your thoughts run away with you, don’t start planning to bail out because you’re worried about the future and how much you can take. Don’t look ahead to the pain. Just get through the day, and there’s a wonderful career ahead of you.”
Likewise, sometimes we need to recognize that we’ve done all we can to prepare for the future. All we need to worry about is getting through today.
2. Consider the worst case scenario
During uncertain times it helps to imagine the worst case scenario. This isn’t being pessimistic. Rather, it shows that even the worst case scenario is manageable.
During the financial crisis, the US Treasury Department officials needed to identify which banks needed capital and how much. They came up with the idea of a stress test, but they were afraid the tests would reveal a hopeless situation, creating financial panic and meltdown. They realized that the worst case scenario would only confirm what the public already believed, and better results would create confidence.
They were correct; the banks weren’t as bad off as everyone feared, and information gained from the tests allowed them to take the first informed steps toward recovery.
3. Don’t think too much
There are times to think about the future, and there are times to focus on the task at hand. I find myself too often neglecting what I need to do today because I’m thinking about the future. This thinking is not always productive planning. Often it’s imagining various scenarios about how my life could turn out and worrying that it won’t turn out like I want it to.
Sometimes I have to force myself to stop thinking and get working. It helps me to set aside specific times to think about the future. It doesn’t always work, but I try to focus on the tasks at hand during the week and save my future thinking for Sunday morning. During this time I review my goals and my progress towards them.
4. Don’t expect perfection
I’ve heard the saying, "perfectionism is the enemy of progress.” I have a tendency toward perfectionism, and this can make it hard for me to deal with uncertainty. I find myself hesitant to start or continue down an uncertain path because I’m afraid it won’t work out perfectly.
I have been a Dave Ramsey fan since I discovered his radio show via podcast in 2005. In 2009, some friends encouraged me to start Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University in the community I was living in. It is a course (previously 13-week, now 9-week) that covers personal finance topics by Dave Ramsey on DVD and through group discussion led by a volunteer facilitator.
I didn’t want to start because I was afraid we wouldn’t have much interest, that I wouldn’t do a good job as a facilitator, and that it would take time away from my family or other areas of my life. I didn’t want to start something that might not be perfect.
It took some prodding from my friends, but finally I got started. Our first group was very small and consisted mainly of my parents, my in-laws, and a few close friends. We held it in a county maintenance garage. It wasn’t perfect, but it was successful.
Over the next 3 years I facilitated 3 more groups that included over 100 people. Many of them changed their lives for the better after learning important financial principles. None of this would have happened if I let perfectionism stand in the way of starting.
In conclusion, uncertainty is a part of life. The better we are able to deal with uncertainly, the more happy and successful we’ll be.
Question: How do you deal with uncertainty?