Facing an uncertain future? – Be comfortable with your discomfort.

One of the greatest rewards in my line of work is to receive confirmation from someone that I’ve made a positive impact in their lives. I guess this is probably the case in many walks of life, not just work. Often this feedback is immediate. Sometimes it is delivered in person, sometimes through formal feedback processes.

Occasionally, this feedback comes long after the event in question and is a genuine surprise to me. This is the best kind. It’s like finding a fiver in your jeans pocket that you thought you had spent.

Recently, a colleague offered me some feedback that was just such a reward. I’d worked with Sharon a couple of years before and was now working with her again on a different project. During a discussion on how we might design a workshop, we both agreed that the outcomes for the event were far from certain. At this point, Sharon stated I had shared something with her during our original working time together that was still helping her re-frame her thinking.

I couldn’t remember saying it, but I have difficulty remembering what I did yesterday, let alone several months ago.

Apparently, I suggested that sometimes it is necessary to become comfortable with discomfort. The context in which I said this was a discussion around the desire to control, plan and be certain what was going to happen next, to know the ‘truth’. In corporate life so much revolves around plans and execution. This is, of course, extremely useful practice. However, when uncertainty comes into corporate life, when “We don’t actually know for certain what comes next”, I see many people get very stressed.

In our personal lives, where uncertainty is never far away, especially in hard times, this stress can also be seen. A strong desire to plan and execute but not knowing what to plan or execute, can be extremely stressful.

My suggestion, which clearly had a lasting impact on my colleague, was to learn to be comfortable with uncertainty. Learn to feel comfortable with discomfort. The discomfort we feel when faced with an uncertain future can be debilitating, if we let it be so.

You have a choice. Embrace the feelings of uncertainty as a sign that opportunity is as much on its way as risk. Take it as an affirmation that you are alive, fully human and not some machine, always planning, executing and needing to know the ‘truth’.

I wonder if my surprise at receiving this feedback, is reflective of my discomfort at not knowing the ‘truth’ that I make a difference? Maybe I am looking to the future and worrying that this skill is somehow waning or not valued? But then comes a blast from the past to wake me up and remind me I needn’t worry. The wisdom I shared then will still be valuable to someone tomorrow, and the day after.

I need to become more comfortable with my discomfort. That way, out of the blue feedback might not be such a surprise and maybe I will actually be more effective in sharing my insights more often.

Thanks for the feedback Sharon. You made my day…and made me think.

Tony

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