Faced recently with personal uncertainty, I decided to take my own advice noted in my December 2021 blogpost “Practices For Managing Uncertainty.” However, this time I took more time to recognize the feelings of fear and vulnerability that also emerged. As the saying goes, “The best laid plans… often go awry,” and over the past two years, I have helped clients pivot and sashay, and figure out the next best moves for them to problem solve. It’s been a gift to witness how they have benefited from their brave actions in facing uncertainty.
Personally, and professionally, uncertainty breeds fear of the unknown. I know fear can sometimes be more overpowering than I anticipate it will be. No matter how much training and creativity I may have, there is still so much in the universe that is out of my control, and so even I may turn to experts, and mutual trust must be gained and given quickly. I am grateful to my clients who have entrusted me, and to experts who have provided opportunities for me to learn from experience too. We face uncertainty together even if we contemplate uncertainty alone.
As a quick reminder, my five practices for managing uncertainty are:
- Showing empathy and kindness toward myself and to others
- Working with the information available in the present moment and grounding knowledge in research and experience.
- Collaborating and drawing (from people with) diverse abilities to implement strategic foresight.
- Building agility to experiment adapt and implement alternatives.
- Reframing problems, refocusing, and returning to what is most important.
In my redux of this list, I want to honestly confront fear, because it was missing the first time. Fear of what might come next can also resurface in waves, just as other emotions ebb and flow. Fear can ripple through the body of an organization, and in one’s body too. So, in retrospect, I would also add a few more elements to consider, in managing uncertainty, especially when fear of what comes next is strong, and you don’t want the fear to immobilize you. Some of the additional steps to take when you want to face fear and be able to reflect, connect, and act are:
- Feel all the feels.
Fear and the loneliness of feeling, and then hiding, emotions can translate into private suffering and heartbreak, but it does not have to be that way. Being transparent about how you feel means being vulnerable, and that can involve, what Shawn G. Ginwright  has called “social and emotional risk taking.” So, it is important to create, if not to find, spaces where safety and mutual support are cultivated—that way, it may be easier to give yourself permission to feel all the feels. Emotions are not necessarily discrete and bounded in how you feel them. You can learn to name your emotions and how it is possible, if not probable, to feel several emotions at the same time, as noted in psychologist Robert Plutchik’s [2,3] “Wheel of Emotion.” The point is to work through your emotions, which can feel like a dark tunnel when fear is present, so that you come out on the other end, and into the light.
- Ask for help.
You don’t have to face fear alone. Connection and community are built when we reach out and show our vulnerability, being cognizant as well of the risks of doing so, as I noted previously. You might be amazed by who shows up to support you when you tap into your personal and professional networks and seek the support you need. Honour peoples’ skill sets and their boundaries, knowing what they can offer, as well as their limits. When we seek help, we are trying to prevent from burning out, and so it is important to respect our own boundaries, as well as those of the people whose support we seek.
- Make and take the time to process information.
Take whatever time you can create – even in ten-minute intervals every few hours when the information is coming at you quickly — to process the information you are receiving before you act. You need time to process, even if you think there is no time, so that you can move into reflection and decide who can help you, or whether you can let things be. Processing can take lots of forms, such as lying down in savasana, shaking it out to Beyonce’s Break My Soul, quick journaling, writing lists, or taking a short walk.
At some point, your trust in others and in yourself has to take over so that you can be present to explore a potential universe of possibilities, which is the flipside of uncertainty. In turn, you’ll bring inner and outer strength to face the outcome, hopefully not alone, and ready yourself for the next round of reframing and developing solutions.
• Ginwright, Shawn A. “The Blues of Vulnerability: Love and Healing Black Youth.” In You Are Your Best Thing: Vulnerability, Shame Resilience, and the Black Experience. An Anthology, edited by Tarana Burke and Brené Brown, 98-108. New York: Random House, 2021.
• Plutchik, Robert. 2001. The Nature of Emotions: Human Emotions Have Deep Evolutionary Roots, a Fact that May Explain Their Complexity and Provide Tools for Clinical Practice. American Scientist, vol 89, no. 4 (July-August), pp. 344-350. https://www.jstor.org/stable/27857503
• “How to Use an Emotion Wheel to Get in Touch with All Your Feels.” https://www.healthline.com/health/emotion-wheel