The Certainty of Uncertainty

Accountability Resilience Transformation


“Uncertainty is the only certainty there is, and knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security.” ~ John Allen Paulos

Key Point: Life is full of surprises and can change in an instant. “One day you’re a hot shot Stanford grad working as a software engineer and obtaining your MBA from Kellogg at Northwestern, experiencing what feels like an accelerated trajectory to success, and the next you’re waking up in the hospital and being told you just had a stroke as a result of a rare condition called Arteriovenous Malformations (AVM). That’s what happened to Ben Munoz in 2006, at the mere age of 29.” Munoz ‘story and what followed is documented in this Forbes blog.

Unfortunately, most of us are well aware of similar stories where some event in seconds or minutes dramatically alters people’s lives forever. In almost every case the event is unexpected, unplanned and very painful; sometimes devastating. The overall impact and outcome ultimately depends on how people choose to think and act after the “moment.” Fortunately, what can at first seem like the worst thing that’s ever happened can become life’s greatest teacher, and gift.

We have also heard stories where people’s lives are changed in the most fortunate ways; the chance meeting that begins an enduring relationship, the big sale that saves a company, project assignment that leads to a promotion, the big buy out that makes many people rich, and so on. The lesson is the same in that this “moment” can really become the “best” thing.

And then there are the craziest things that happen. I’ve written about standing on stage in front of hundreds of people being licked by cheetahs… Yes, the big cats you see at the zoo. Who could have even imagined that? Or the night I ended up in a country tavern, with a hundred plus fun loving people wildly cheering as I engaged in a leg-wrestling contest with another CEO? I couldn’t have made that event up in the wildest dream.

If we think we’ve created a controllable, predictable life, we can rest assured that’s an illusion. Nothing stays the same forever. One constant, however, is you and me are at center stage and we are in control of how we act. That great, tragic, crazy and/or mundane thing that happens is often out of our control and in some case, beyond our imagination. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t plan and act with intent. Of course it is self-accountable to be proactive, and that action often leads to a desired outcome. But even the best plans must accept the uncertainty of other possibilities.

This uncertainty “truism” can keep us up at night, obsessing over ways to protect ourselves from anything that might go wrong. On the other hand, it can motivate us to practice acceptance, life in the moment, and to embrace the full adventure of living. What’s coming tomorrow might not be easy… Or it might fulfill us in ways we can’t imagine. What’s certain is that it will come. When it arrives, how will you respond?

Character Moves:

  1. Replace entitled expectations with purposeful intent. Instead of expecting the future to give us something specific, focus on what we’ll do to create what you and I want to experience. By constantly moving forward, focusing on our purpose and reason for LIVING, we have a constant. Our values, character, mindset, and purpose can be an anchor and rebuff to certain uncertainty.
  2. Be confident about our coping and adapting skills. This isn’t the same as “expect the worst” or even “the best.” It’s more about assuring ourselves that we can handle any difficulty or good fortune that might come. There are probably things that we’ve persevered through and “handled” in the past. Whatever takes place, be confident that we can deal with it. Often, it isn’t the uncertainty that bothers people. It’s their tendency to get lost in false expectations appearing real (i.e. unwarranted worry or fear). Why? We benefit when we simply accept that life will throw a lot at us, and we have the ability to navigate through anything.
  3. Practice mindfulness and ACT… Move forward. Don’t wait. When we obsess about a tomorrow that hasn’t happened, we’re too busy judging what hasn’t occurred yet to fully experience what’s taking place right now. It’s the same when we dwell on the past. We usually become obsessed with judgment: Was it good or bad? When we focus on the present and move forward, it’s perhaps the best antidote to uncertainty. 

Certain uncertainty in the Triangle,