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Dealing with Uncertainty

This page created 17 June 2013


By Jessica Chircop (former ADAVIC volunteer who let uncertainty into her life and found…it paid off)

“Uncertainty is the only certainty there is, and knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security.”
~John Allen Paulos
Uncertainty is challenging for everybody. Some struggle with the inability to plan ahead, others with the risk that can accompany uncertainty (“will I have enough money to pay my rent?”) and some people just cannot stand that feeling of anxiety that uncertainty can bring. For mental health sufferers this may be something that is all too familiar. For everybody else, that feeling that overcomes your stomach and the thoughts that circulate in your mind still do not seem easy to combat.
Let’s discuss a light example of uncertainty. I will volunteer myself as an example (as a past volunteer for ADAVIC, it seems only fitting). I always knew what career path I would follow. When I finished my undergraduate degree at University I enrolled straight into an Honours course and was sure I would follow that with a masters degree. Half way through that Honours course I realised my heart (or maybe my head?) was not in it anymore. So I finished that year without any idea what would come next. Was I making a mistake not re-enrolling? Would I find a job I liked? What would everyone say if I was unemployed for the next year and had to then slink back to University with my tail between my legs? The thoughts that cross your mind when you face the anxiety around being uncertain can vary from the logical to the ridiculous.
Unfortunately, if we don’t expose ourselves to feelings of uncertainty, it probably means we are not taking any chances. If we protect ourselves from the unknown forever then we end up living a life without any challenge and without any excitement. I am not suggesting that you throw caution to the wind and let fate control every outcome in your life, but it is important that we loosen those ties we have with control every so often.
Here are some examples on how you can ease into it:

  • Prepare for different possibilities: In the example I used above I really had two logical outcomes, either I would get a job or I wouldn’t. So planning would involve searching for a job, and understanding that if I didn’t get one I would need a plan b (for example, re-enrolling in study or volunteering). Make a list if you have several possible outcomes.

  • Use stress-reducing techniques as soon as uncertainty becomes a possibility: The best way is to use breathing techniques and meditation.

  • Understand your uncertainty: Is it really being uncertain that bothers you, or is it the feelings that uncertainty elicits? Learn to check yourself and your thoughts. Have your thoughts gone from “I might not be able to find a job” to “I will end up unemployed, lonely and surrounded by twenty cats” – if so, then you are probably stressing out more than is necessary and for that, you can follow the previous step (breathing and meditation).

  • Focus on what you can control: You may not control whether someone hires you for a job, or whether an elderly parent passes away. However, you can control how well you write your resume and perform in a job interview. You can also control how you choose to spend your last days with a loved one. No one ever expects you to have the utmost control over your life, just do what you can (not what you think you should) and you will be all the better for it.

  • Understand that escape from uncertainty as impossibility: You will never have a life free from uncertainty. Understanding this and that we all deal with things in different manners, is why getting a hold of this, and realising what works for you is important in living a fulfilling life. Try a few techniques and see what eases those feelings and thoughts that we all know too well.

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