Finding Clarity in the Most Uncertain Year

In May of this year that we’ll never forget, I was struggling. First and foremost, like everyone, I was starting month three of pandemic life and it was tough sledding.
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“Lack of clarity will knock you down every time. That’s the work we need to do to combat the relentless pressure of uncertainty.”

In May of this year that we’ll never forget, I was struggling. First and foremost, like everyone, I was starting month three of pandemic life and it was tough sledding.

May also marked the one-year anniversary of my departure from Electronic Arts (where I’d been for a phenomenal 14 years) and the start of chapter-next in my career. My first six months after moving forward from EA had been insanely rich, fun, and challenging. I was grateful for the learning I’d begun, the support I received all over the place, and the gift of time to start a new story for myself in the leadership development and coaching space, as well as still flexing some muscles in the marketing arena.

Then I started 2020 with a clear view of my path forward. As our family stepped off the plane from another soul-nurturing trip to Maui over the holidays, I had a plan lined all lined up. The time with friends and family gave me the safe spaces to reflect, talk it out, and get the ideas of others that I trusted. I had the insights and information I needed to get the ball rolling with purpose and start knocking all the pins down. I was ready.

And then that plan didn’t work out.

Why?

Some of the reasons were in my control. And some of them (like the pandemic) were pretty much leaving all of us feeling out of control. Week by week, things were changing at a pace that was completely unnerving.

The reality? This time was pretty damn uncomfortable. The plan I had architected for myself wasn’t in play anymore. The constant swirl of uncertainty around me enabled me to create a healthy laundry list of self-doubts and questions that I didn’t have the answers to. I was also into the third month of working from home, which I wasn’t wearing very well (although now that it’s July, it’s fitting a bit better). I set a strong self-expectation, and one that I thought others had for me, that the right amount of time had passed for me to get to certainty on chapter-next.

But, as has often been the case in recent weeks, I leaned into an insight that mattered to me, and I used that insight to get me back to building my way forward. That insight came from the great writer and leadership maestro Bob Johansen. In his book The New Leadership Literacies, which came out more than three years ago but is infinitely more relevant today then when it was published, Bob tells us that,

The future will reward clarity, but punish certainty.

Those were the words I needed to get my grip on.

Because upon reflection, I’d accelerated myself to fixed certainties and outcomes across the board that were no longer achievable, desirable, or even available. I had lost sight of the learning I had shared with many coaching clients over the past months: “you can control your decisions, but you don’t have control over all the outcomes.”

I made the decision in May to reframe the things I was clear about. I got my arms around the things that were in my control, and consciously let go of the things that were out of my control. I reset my planning horizon from the coming year to literally day-by-day so I could get my new intentions in play and reinforced as habits.

And then without much warning, a new plan started to emerge that month.

It started from a disruptive space that at the time was kind of arresting and confusing, but quickly became real and coherent. It got stronger and clearer day by day. It was a plan that was completely out of my sight at the start of the year, and then began to become more available, achievable and desirable as the weeks passed.

That plan is almost ready to share with everyone. I know, it’s a tiny cliff-hanger…so thanks for hanging on for just a little bit longer. 😉

But today, I want to share three insights that this wicked 2020 have served up to me, and where I got what I needed:

Being professionally pliable is paramount

Adaptability is such a core leadership literacy…always, but especially right now. The places where I tripped and fell were the moments in which I was too rigid, too declarative, and too set on predetermined outcomes that I had narrated in my head. Today, I have to affirm my commitment to adaptability all the time, sometimes multiple times per day. When I feel myself getting fixated on certain outcomes or timeframes, I rise up a bit and remind myself that being professionally pliable is paramount.

Discomfort is where the learning is  

Few things are more motivating than working on things you are learning to do for the first time. And in this time, there have been so many firsts as we’ve sought to remain relevant, build our brands, and deepen our relationships. I don’t think about the same things during the workday that I did for so many years in my career. It goes well beyond the space of “variety” and into the unmapped and uncomfortable space of personal growth and transformation. It’s the biggest motivator for me right now by far. Can you imagine that for yourself?

Be relentless on clarity and let go of certainty

If you leave this article with anything, please make it this. Lack of clarity will knock you down every time. That’s the work we need to do to combat the relentless pressure of uncertainty. Here’s one example from my experience: when uncertainty was all around me, I got back to writing and content creation as ways to reinforce my clarity and the insights that I needed to have present for myself. Sometimes I didn’t know what I was going to say or create, but the practice and discipline of writing opened the door to clarity for me. All I had to do after that was walk right in.

Here’s some closing questions for you to take away:

·        How can adaptability serve you during this time? What do you need to let go of?

·        What is one first-time thing you are avoiding that you can take action on today?

·        Where do you have clarity now and how can you embrace it to help you move forward?

·        What would a new plan do for you?