Stuff I’ve Learned About Running a Business #3: Uncertainty is awful, and it never goes away.

Empty grocery shelves with a few packages of ramen — photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash

This is issue #3 of my newsletter, Stuff I’ve Learned about Running a Business. You can view all issues here.

Well, shit.

If you’d asked me three weeks ago how I felt about my business, I would have said amazing. My workload was growing, my client load was increasing, and I was working on an exciting new project to take things in a direction that felt really good.

Ask me now, and you’ll find me glued to social media, constantly checking the news and dreaming up worst-case scenarios about losing all my clients, defaulting on our mortgage and being forced to give up our cats for adoption and move back in with my parents.

Well, shit.

In all fairness, I was dreaming up worst-case scenarios long before I even knew what a coronavirus was (thanks, anxiety brain). But now it’s worse. Of course it’s worse. There’s so much uncertainty right now that even the smartest experts in the world can’t give us any better answers than, “It depends,” and “We don’t know yet.” It’s fucking awful.

Uncertainty is fucking awful.

Let’s just get it off our chests. Take a deep breath and repeat after me: “Uncertainty is fucking awful.” There, we’ve named the awfulness and admitted that we feel it. It’s OK to feel awful. Lives and livelihoods are at stake in a very big way. No one knows what’s going to happen, and our brains are generally terrible at coping with this much uncertainty.

There’s so much uncertainty right now that even the smartest experts in the world can’t give us any better answers than, “It depends,” and “We don’t know yet.” It’s fucking awful.

One of the ways we try to cope (and by we, I mean me) is by obsessively reading the news. We might convince ourselves we do this to “stay informed”, but I don’t think that’s it at all. I think we do this (again, we = me) because we’re looking for some sort of assurance that we’re going to be OK. That we’ll emerge from this crisis safe and sound and whole. Some small part of us is convinced that if we just read enough articles, just refresh our Twitter feed enough times, we’ll stumble upon that one nugget of truth that tells us it’s all going to work out.

There are no guarantees. Not now. Not ever.

Real talk: there is no nugget of truth. Even in the best of times, this life doesn’t come with guarantees. We just feel it more in times like these.

Some small part of us is convinced that if we just read enough articles, just refresh our Twitter feed enough times, we’ll stumble upon that one nugget of truth that tells us it’s all going to work out.

So if you, like me, find yourself spending way too much time reading news and way too little on the important work in front of you (whether that’s building a business, creating art, caring for yourself and others, or just keeping it together one day at a time), I’d like to gently suggest that you aren’t doing yourself any favors. In searching for that reassurance that does not, indeed cannot, exist, you are only contributing to your own anxiety and suffering.

The only way forward is to let it go. Let go of the need for guarantees. Accept that you’ll never be 100% sure that you’re going to be OK.

Your best work lies somewhere beyond the realm of certainty.

There’s actually something really liberating about this, because it means you don’t have to wait to do the thing you’ve always wanted to do. You don’t have to wait until you’ve got all your ducks in a row, until you’ve saved a little more money, gained a few more skills, hedged your bets or whatever else you haven’t done that’s holding you back from starting. You can just start.

The only way forward is to let it go. Let go of the need for guarantees. Accept that you’ll never be 100% sure that you’re going to be OK.

When you fully embrace this idea, a funny thing happens. The knot of fear loosens. The terror of uncertainty starts to lose some of its power. It’s still there; it will always be there. But underneath those layers of fear and doubt and grief and pain, you’ll find something that feels a little like faith. Faith that you are strong. Faith that you have what it takes. Faith, ironically, that you will be OK.

You will find that there is a realm beyond certainty. Your best work is waiting for you there.

I write about radically ethical marketing, self-employment and non-sleazy self-promotion. Learn more at https://empoweredfreelancer.com/

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