I have long since known that a high tolerance for ambiguity is a key factor in success and happiness. I have even spoken of this fact many times. I have learned of late that “knowing” something and truly experiencing it are quite different. At this time in my life I am at a major transition point, choosing to take my business in a different direction. Thus, I am facing ambiguity I have not known recently. And it is quite a different feeling to be without familiar anchors in one’s mid 60’s than it was in earlier years. I believe as we age we become more risk aversive, or at least more uncomfortable with risk. That is probably one of the main reasons that we need to force ourselves outside of our comfort zone. If we do so, we are likely to handle better changes that we can’t control. Easier to talk and write about than to do, however. So, what is necessary for us to manage life’s ambiguities?
First, we need to understand and accept that we don’t have total control of our life. Things will happen to us that are totally outside of our control. Health issues are one example of this. Now, while it is true that we can impact our health by our habits and behaviors, this is not the whole story. There are people who never smoked who battled lung cancer, athletes who die while running marathons, and others who smoke and drink a lot who live into their 90’s. Some believe that this is an example of life not being fair. Others believe (and I am one of them) that this is because someone else is in control, and while our actions certainly do matter, they do not tell the whole story. But what we can control we should, such as maintaining a healthy weight, having close relationships with others, and preparing for winter in spring.
We need to live intentionally, being true to ourselves and to those for whom we are responsible. This includes making decisions about what is our best life and living with purpose, so we can have as few regrets as possible. This includes having values, and remaining true to them, so when those times come when we are not sure of our next steps, our values and purpose can guide us. This can ground us in times of ambiguity.
Then, we need to trust ourselves, and the process. We need to believe that we will have what we need to not just survive, but to thrive. No, not at all times, but often enough. We need to trust that when we take the next step, the other steps will be clearer. Trusting ourselves involves self efficacy, the deep down belief that we are of value, and that we have what it takes to be our best, and to do our best. Now, belief is important, and then it is about the doing!
We have had some major problematic happenings in our world in the past few years. Remember 9/11/2001 that ended many lives and destroyed major buildings. Certainly the people most directly affected by that tragic event suffered through much ambiguity, and had to draw upon inner resources in a way most of us will never have to experience. Hurricane Katrina ten years ago could have destroyed most of New Orleans and surrounding areas, but the people of those areas and those who came to help refused to let that happen. During all of the ambiguity, they refused to quit, and pressed on to rebuild something even better than what had been destroyed. The financial crisis in the U.S. that began in 2008 and that has only recently begun to improve for many people is another example. Many people saw their life savings disappear, and were not able to retire for years longer than they had planned. Regardless of what caused the financial crises, regardless if they were the result of corporate and or government decisions, or due to the criminal behavior of individuals such as Bernie Madoff, life plans were changed in an instant, resulting in great ambiguity for millions of people.
Most of us have not and likely will not experience the significant life changing events like those just mentioned. The events we encounter that create great ambiguity for us are on a smaller scale. Nonetheless, when our world changes and we are not sure what will or should be our next steps, the earth seems to move, and we are not sure when it will settle, or even if it will.
When ambiguity strikes we can choose to look for the opportunities created, and not try to hold on to what has passed. It is at these times that we must trust ourselves, and trust the process.
And, hold on for the ride!