Starting my business was easy.
Then, I almost went bankrupt.
When I became an entrepreneur in 2008, my first piece of business came easily. Then 2009 hit and the financial world came to a screeching halt. What little work I had at the time did the same.
That meant I had no income.
It went for weeks and months.
I did the only thing a sane person would do. I panicked.
I started rethinking this whole entrepreneurship thing. I didn’t like the idea of starving or moving back in with my mom as a thirty-something.
Then, I reached out to my entire network to see if anyone would give me a job. No one replied.
Then, I really panicked.
Certainty. We all crave it.
People even kill for it. But it’s a farce. Certainty is a myth. Unless you’re talking about death and taxes, so it’s said.
But isn’t it true that outside of a very few things in life, uncertainty reigns?
Our jobs, relationships, even our lives aren’t guaranteed. We don’t know how long they will last. But, we lull ourselves into thinking they will, when the truth is, uncertainty is lurking just around the corner.
Managing uncertainty is critical, especially in business. How one copes with it sets apart those who reach success and those who don’t.
After I desperately looked for jobs, I knew I was facing a crisis. Fear and despair swallowed me whole. I needed to fight but didn’t know what else to do.
I was alone. I was desperate.
Money was running out, so I stopped spending it. I made a new budget: a dollar a day or less (outside of rent).
Eating out, fancy coffee, even ice cream all vanished. I barely ate.
It wasn’t easy, but I made it a challenge and gamified it. It became easier. And, after a few weeks this radical financial diet, it became a habit.
But I had to do something to get my mind off of the fact I was going to go bankrupt if I didn’t find another source of revenue soon. There was only one problem: I exhausted my network and most of my resource. And, stress was crashing upon me like waves to the shore.
So I turned to someone whom I knew could help me–Jon Stewart. To be more precise, I turned on the Jon Stewart Show and would stream it until my mind was wrenched from my visions of what it would be like to go bankrupt. Eventually, my fear subsided and was replaced with deep belly laughs.
The pattern of fear and panic then to Jon Stewart and laughter continued for months.
Then, I got an email that changed everything.
My first client recommended my services to an organization and said they would be contacting me. After a couple of nail-chewing weeks, they sent me an email with a request for proposal.
I spent two days hacking away at a proposal and a pricing sheet. After I felt like it was ready, I sent it with a deep sigh and a prayer. “It was out of my hands, now,” I said to myself.
I won the work.
Even though I was competing against real advertising agencies, I got the project to redesign their website. That day, everything changed. I changed.
That experience shaped the way I see and deal with uncertainty. It still informs the way I respond to fear even to this day.
Everyone hates uncertainty. It sucks.
It causes paralysis, insecurity, fear. Our palms get sweaty, bodies shake, minds freeze. It can make the stoic cry and people from all walks of life make stupid decisions.
We all fear uncertainty for various reasons. So the question is how do we deal with it?
Here’s what you shouldn’t do—wish it away. Avoiding the reality of your situation doesn’t work. You have to see it for what it is. Then you can take the appropriate steps toward a possible solution.
I was going to go bankrupt. I knew it. And, I needed to accept that it was a likely possibility. That helped me to make drastic spending cuts. If I hadn’t drunk in that reality, I might have run out of money before I got my break.
Another lesson I had to accept was that I don’t have ultimate control, nor will I ever. And anyone who believes that they have control is lying to themselves. I had to see my limits: I would never be able to control uncertainty.
In that, I found freedom.
I was able to focus on what I could control.
I began with my fear. It was hard to control, but at least I could redirect it.
Survival was vital for me. I was going crazy. It felt like I had ants in my brain. I had to do something to take my mind off of the fear and risk. It worked. Jon Stewart was my hero.
These days I don’t watch much Stewart or any TV. But I do plunge myself into books. I swim in them. And they do the trick when I’m fearful. But even Harry Potter can’t ease my mind, sometimes, when I face something that feels impossible.
For me, I find myself needing to practice my faith. It comes out through prayer. I ask God to help me. I remember that He is with me. It’s a balm to an aching wound. Then somehow the impossible feels slightly more possible.
We will never master uncertainty. It won’t have any queen or king. But the practice of managing uncertainty is critical to success.
You’ll probably find that the better you control yourself, the more the uncertainty seems to be managed.
In fact, you are not managing uncertainty at all. You’re only managing yourself. The uncertainty will always be the same.
You should see it for what it is and accept its reality. And, in the moments when you’ve done all you can do, the only thing left is to steady your mind and heart, or at least distract it.
After winning that project, I’ve gone on to face many other uncertainties.
When I do, I still feel fear and insecurity. But I remember my first major crisis and the lessons learned.
And I walk forward into the darkness, excited for what the future will bring to light.