We live and work in volatile, turbulent and fast-paced times. Our growing economic, social and environmental challenges mean that we are all living in uncertain times where we are continually having to re-invent how we do business and how we live. Systemic decaying institutions surround us, we are struggling to imagine the future of work which is being disrupted massively by exponential technology, the cost of education is skyrocketing, the threats of climate change aren’t going away despite COP21, the environmental degradation and plundering of resources in the face of exploding population continues.
Where once you could comfortably sit down and write a 5 year strategy plan for business, today you’re lucky if one will stand up for 5 months. Where once horizon scanning was looking up and ahead at a fairly steady curve, now it’s like looking at a migraine dancing in front of your eyes. Where once we had reasonable certainty in how to create and build sustainable businesses, now we have uncertainty. Where once we had a clear life and career path cut out for us, today’s young people have apparently limitless choice, and equally limitless uncertainty.
I believe these challenging times offer a wealth of new opportunities to create abundance for all life on our little blue dot, to create businesses that are purpose-led and consciously aware of maximising the opportunity for good and minimising the potential for harm. Many people and businesses are getting involved, others aren’t. Why? What could hold us back – what IS holding us back – is fear.
Fear of the unknown holds us back. It is our inability to cope and be comfortable with uncertainty and our focus on what holds us back rather than what could propel us forwards. Many of us are frozen, sitting paralysed in front of the obstacles we perceive hold us back and the future we can’t imagine. Whether you’re a business leader or a college student, an activist or a committed change-maker – it’s time to get comfortable with uncertainty and overcome fear.
From Comfortable to Uncomfortable with Uncertainty
I think I have always been relatively comfortable with uncertainty. In my ‘yoof’ I was comfortable with uncertainty because I was so certain of myself. I was lucky to be born with more than my fair share of confidence innate in my personality. Added to being brought up in a very binary household – there was right and wrong, black and white, no grey areas – certainty and surety came easily to me. By the age of 18 I had travelled a lot of the world solo, living in many different countries by the time I was 22 and have been in business for myself since I was 25. I never needed the security of a a traditional education or career, I chose a business where your longest tenure of security would be a 12 month contract and I happily married men from very different cultures which was rare in a white working class family from Brixton during the 60s and 70s when I was younger.
It was only when I experienced real reversals of fortune later in life that I had to reexamine and redevelop my philosophy on life, risk and actually make an effort to get comfortable with uncertainty. Because times had become uncertain for me. I no longer knew where my income was going to come from. I was no longer sure I knew all the answers. I was no longer sure the Universe would deliver. I became fearful and had to find a way to overcome fear. Let’s take note here: in my years of being sure I never even asked those questions. What I had was innate faith in that life would always turn up trumps for me. That as long as I worked hard, hustled and strove for excellence, I would be ok. That was my philosophy and belief set. When it became evident that my beliefs had been broken – that there was no longer any evidence that my previous happy, ignorant philosophy of life would support and save me from the wolf at the door, I became uncertain. With uncertainty comes fear, with fear comes inaction.
Taking inspiration from Marcus Aurelius and The Stoics
On my journey to living happily with uncertainty once more, I’ve taken a lot of my inspiration from Stoic philosophy and from other sources of ancient wisdom such as Buddhism and indigenous knowledge, a battle against cancer, a decade of loss of loved ones, combined with a healthy study of positive psychology and a large dose of life experience. Somewhere in that mix are worthwhile lessons for living with uncertainty that I would like to share with you.
Although Socrates, Plato and Aristotle knew a thing or two, when it comes to leadership and problem-solving (fear is a problem), there’s no-one quite like Roman philosopher and emperor, Marcus Aurelius and his fellow Stoics. He really understood the response required to what we perceive as problems that incapacitate us. If you ever get a chance to read Meditations, do.
Our actions may be impeded…. but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.
Marcus Aurelius looked at the obstacles life throws at us, not only as a way to advance but also as a way to develop the virtues he saw as essential to mankind: patience, courage, humility, resourcefulness, justice, reason and creativity. He also knew that being an effective problem solver was mostly about mindset. Here’s how I look at it. It’s not quite as beautifully written as Marcus (winks).
Life’s like rowing a boat around a rocky shore. You can focus on the rocks – the problems – and find a way round. And you can focus on the water level – your personal resilience – keep it topped up and row right over the top of the rocks.
Over the next few blog posts I would like to share with you my personal philosophy for getting comfortable with uncertainty, tips on how to overcome fear and how to thrive in the unknown future. On how to deal with the rocks and how to top up the water levels. Whether you’re a business leader or not, the six stages of overcoming fear and living with uncertainty can help you. They are:-
- Right Relations
- Proper Perception and Use of the Senses
- Taking Right Action
- Harnessing GoodWill power
- Unity and Collaboration
- Finding Essential Divinity & Living With A Spiritual Approach
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Jenny Andersson is a brand & business strategy consultant working with organisations and start-ups to transform their future prospects through purpose-led enterprise. With over 30 years’ experience in brand communications, Jenny has worked with many of the world’s leading brands to integrate social and environmental purpose including Virgin, Levi Strauss and Timberland. She holds an MBA, MSc in Psychology, is a Fellow of the RSA. She curates The Purposeful Enterprise Online Summit 2016 first held on 11-13 April, 2016. If you would like to work with Jenny on activating purpose inside your business, contact firstname.lastname@example.org for a confidential chat.