Learning to Thrive in Uncertainty
Let’s start with a story of an overconfident Junior in college. (Me. It’s me.) I had just landed my dream internship in Nashville and was excited about the potential of beginning my career in a similar role.
Fast forward to a slightly less confident college Senior who had a great internship but wasn’t hearing back from any companies. I decided to take the leap and move back to Nashville after graduation so interviewing was easier. Cue a year of interviewing, working at Starbucks, starting a company, leaving Starbucks for Warby Parker, and the company I had started dissolving.
But you know what? I didn’t mind the uncertainty. I don’t think it even registered in my mind.
Jump forward another year (ish), and I’m now in Southern California, working with talented, supportive, business partners that aren’t afraid to set big goals and make them happen, and I’m learning more every day.
But the uncertainty remains, and I notice it more and more. I’m (very) Type A, which means I like everything figured out, my ducks in a row, and very few surprises. But I ended up in client services, which means my day is part meeting deadlines, and part handling whatever might be thrown our way.
It’s an incredible chance we have to support ourselves doing something we enjoy, and we’re very grateful for a growing agency.
That being said, it’s still a whirlwind.
In the midst of the uncertainty that often comes with creative roles, whether freelancing or within a company, how do we thrive?
As a side note, I’ve tried to take you mysterious Type B people into account when discussing these solutions, but I’ll admit, I’m much better talking to the Type As. If you are Type B, I’d love to hear what you’re doing!
There’s often the urge to control everything -- as we’ve already discussed, I’m Type A, I get it! Whether it’s signing on a new client or not knowing what a meeting will cover (don’t get me started), days can be filled with “what if’s”.
Uncertainty can also lie in contracts, projects, relationships… every part of the creative life. Learning to thrive in uncertainty is more than ignoring it and hoping you’ll be able to handle it better without putting any work into it.
It’s taking the steps to learn healthy coping mechanisms. (Can you tell many of my friends are social workers or other mental health professionals?) It’s how we take uncertainty and learn to embrace in it and not just live, but thrive.
Learn to love the part of you that thrives on control.
The entrepreneurship community loves self-improvement. This is good until it becomes an unhealthy obsession. None of us are perfect, and there are so many things I want to change and improve upon, but we also need to love who we are in this very moment. Which means even though I may dislike my Type A tendencies, I’m built this way for a reason.
Every time you begin to feel your heartbeat increasing and mind racing, tell yourself how much you love every part of who you are. You don’t need to wait until you’re perfect (because sorry to say, that doesn’t exist) to appreciate your strength.
When there’s a to-do list filled with “must-do” tasks, it’s easy to get caught up in completing it as quickly as possible so you can move onto the next thing. When we rush, though, we miss the parts of our work that we enjoy because we’re too caught up in the goal of completing that we miss the process.
Next time you find yourself doing for the sake of doing, not creating, take a pause. Grab some water, go for a walk, or practice a few minutes of mindfulness at your desk. Revisit your task with a renewed desire to truly focus on what you’re doing, rather than what will get you onto your next task.
This is particularly important when working with a number of clients because there are priorities for each one. Know that you are one person and if you’re doing the best you can, then you’re already doing what you need to do. Prioritize tasks across clients, then begin at the top and move thoughtfully and conscientiously through each one.
Release what you can’t control.
If you’ve done everything you can to set this project up for success, then it’s time to focus on what you can control: your well-being.
Eat well, make time for the gym, and put your phone down for a bit. Take a walk to get away from the computer. The better you can release stress and everything you have no control over, the better.
Obsessing over controlling every aspect doesn’t help. Instead, appreciate that you noticed your habits, then release it. Focus on other things, like tasks you can control. Focus on creating the best work product you can and managing stress and living well.
Accept the fact that life is uncertain.
This is the part where I share a bit of tough love. Sure, this is much easier said than done. But the most important thing is to avoid trying to fix something that can’t be fixed. Uncertainty is a part of life, so instead of fixing, we need to learn how to better work with it.
What stresses you out about the uncertainty? Is it losing control of the situation, or not knowing when you may need to move forward?
Focus on what you can do at this moment, and it doesn’t need to be complicated. If you thrive most while problem-solving, look for a task that you can complete quickly. It could be responding to a few emails, or writing a blog post for a client.
Or it could be mapping out the week’s tasks so you can create a plan. Whatever it is, know how to recognize when you’re spinning into “what if’s”, and how to bring yourself back to the present.
Work on a “me” project.
A surefire way to kill your creativity is to only spend it on one project. Find a way to spend some time each day on a different client, different deliverable, or something entirely for yourself. (Something we should all be doing!)
I’ve mentioned this before because of how valuable these types of projects are. Doing something for yourself, whether you share it or not, gives you a way to experiment and create without pressure.
While we’re likely focusing on a variety of tasks, some of which we enjoy and others not so much, this is the time to focus on something you enjoy. It will help take your mind off the uncertainty and will help you remind yourself why you started. (One of my all time favorite quotes.)
Learning to thrive in uncertainty isn’t always a proven road that’s easy to find, because it’s just that -- working in uncertainty. But with these steps, you can begin to do the work to embrace the unknown, because, yes, it’s not going anywhere.
But that’s also the beautiful thing about creativity. The surprises bring some of the best gifts to our work and career. We just need to be willing to take the leap.
Erwin Raphael McManus wrote in The Artisan Soul, “True creativity does not come easy; creativity is born of risk and refined from failure.” If we truly want to be our best creative selves, in and out of work, then we need to take risks, be okay with the potential to fail, and embrace the unknowns we face in the pursuit of creativity.
It's certainly not an easy ask, but working towards this will always be worth it. I promise.