The very uncertainty that we fear is what makes Life magical and beautiful.
At a learning forum for managers the other day, one of the speakers championed the need for today’s business leaders to develop the ability to lead through uncertainty. He said that most decisions have to be made today not knowing what will happen. Some of those in the audience disagreed with him. They argued that decisions cannot and must not be made when you don’t know what will happen. The debate continued well past the keynote presentation and spilled over into the drinks and dinner conversations as well.
A senior business leader who was next to me said leading in uncertain times was a very scary experience. “Not many can do it,” he observed.
I disagreed with him. I pointed out that fearing uncertainty is never the appropriate response. I believe that not just managers, everybody on the planet is (and must be) capable of dealing with uncertainty. Uncertainty is unfolding afresh in each new moment and we must face it by looking it in the eye.
Why are we running scared of uncertainty when the very nature of Life is impermanent, fragile, uncertain? In fact, there’s a certainty about death – if you are alive, you will die, for sure, some day. But just because you are born – and alive – does not mean you will go on living. There’s no certainty about Life! From the time you came out of your mother’s womb your entire Life has been a journey through the uncertain. It’s your upbringing, your education and your reference to economic parameters (read a pay check and/or a bank balance) that makes you believe that you are secure and can be certain about the way your Life will pan out. Because you have been raised in a protected environment by your parents and family, because you have been progressing through your academic career in a linear fashion – moving from class to class in a predictable manner – because you got employed soon after you graduated from college; for all these reasons and more, you have come to believe that Life’s happening the way you envisioned it for yourself. You have almost concluded that Life is a straight line! That’s when Life socks you with a pink slip or with a heart attack or a break-up or a death! That’s when you wake up, shocked and dazed, and begin to “fear an uncertain future”.
When you live out of fear, resisting the uncertainty that surrounds you, you will not grow. You may grow older. But you will not grow from within, you will not evolve. Because fear debilitates. It limits. Every aspect of Life is uncertain, unsafe, dangerous – there are so many diseases you can contract and die or your house can be burgled and you can be murdered or you may meet with an accident on the road or your plane may crash mid-air or someone could hack your bank account and siphon off all your hard-earned money…Anything can happen if you actually consider what all can go wrong with your Life. But if you start letting the fear of uncertainty rule you, you can be sure to have ruined your Life.
There’s hope though! You can let go of all your fear and embrace uncertainty. Since uncertainty is the essence of Life, when you embrace it, you are actually uniting with the Universal Energy. That Energy empowers you and gives you the true sense of security – which no insurance scheme, no amount of money and no amount of physical protection ever can. Then a pink slip will not torment you. Then not-knowing-what-will-happen-next will be part of the game, of the adventure called Life.
So, I believe that anyone can lead through uncertain times. Anyone can take decisions even when they don’t know what to do – because leadership is really about seeing what is and mobilizing an appropriate response. All you need to be able to do this, lead through uncertainty, is to understand Life better. Yes, uncertainty can be unsettling and scary when you first notice it. But if you drop the fear, the same uncertainty becomes beautiful – you will realize that Life was always uncertain. This awakening is what makes Life magical. To experience this magic you must learn to live in the moment, soaking in whatever the moment has to offer, in a “not-knowing-what-will-happen-next” mode!