How to embrace uncertainty and enjoy it.

How to embrace uncertainty and enjoy it.

Compass

Uncertainty is part of life. Only in hindsight do we see the connections.

That’s why we like stories and watch films, because they make sense of the world.

But it’s a lie.

In stories and films, the protagonist wants something. It could be love, honour, revenge. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that they are on a quest to find it. The tension builds as they face increasingly difficult complications, unexpected events and setbacks. Finally, they are successful and achieve their goals or they fail. Then there is the resolution. This is the real payoff. The hero or heroine gets insight from understanding the connections between the events.

The hard truth is that what happens to us in life, often doesn’t make sense.

Life doesn’t fit into a simple cause and effect.

You’ve got where you are today through your effort and luck. But when you look back on your past, it is easy to forget that both played a part.

Chance makes us feel vulnerable to the uncertainty of future events. It’s why we create a narrative of cause and effect – connections between events that are fictions of our imagination. They make us feel in control and make us overconfident about predicting the future.

You might think practice and experience will improve your skills and tip the odds of success a little more in your favour. But it may not be worth the effort, expense and time.

Skills and hard work do not cut it alone. Malcolm Gladwell popularised the idea that you need 10,000 hours for mastery. He also acknowledged that luck played a big part too. It seems that deliberate practice only accounts for one-third of the variation in excellence in chess and music.

Chance happens more than we realise.

We all know people who have great talents. They work hard year after year. They never get traction in their career, business or personal lives.

Accept it. You are not the master of your destiny. Your past successes and failures have a lot to do with luck – the good and the bad. Face this fact. It will prepare you for what’s next.

Test it. What were you doing five years ago? Think about all the influences that got you there. Everything from the economy, personal connections, education, advice and so on.

Pick one thing that was linked to chance. Now ask:
‘What if…?’ For example,’ What if I didn’t meet [person]?’ ‘’What if I hadn’t read [article]?’ ‘What if the economy wasn’t …?’ See how easily it could have been different?

Your life story is more like a documentary than a movie.

Documentaries are not real. They are made up from bits of footage of real life situations. Shot at different times, some planned and predictable, some not. How it is assembled creates different stories, emotions and resolutions.

Our life story is like that. We have memories of snippets of experience – some planned, some not, some real, some not.
We edit them together to create a storyline. Over time we embellish it, forget parts of it and re-edit it.

You can rearrange your life experiences and create different narratives.

Those unplanned moments, good and bad, are the building blocks for the next phase of your life story. Once you are aware of this, you are free to start again. Re-write your script and not be constrained by ‘lessons of the past’.

Embrace uncertainty and accept the future is a gamble and you will adapt better and enjoy the serendipity of life.

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Further Reading

  1. Fischhoff, B., (1975). ‘Hindsight/Foresight: The Effect of Outcome Knowledge on Judgment Under Uncertainty,’ Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance 1, no. 3 August: 288– 299.
  2. Gladwell, M., (2008) Outliers: The Story of Success. N.Y., Little, Brown and Company.
  3. Hambrick, D.Z., et al. (2014). ‘Accounting for Expert Performance: The devil is in the details.’ Intelligence, Vol 14, July/August: 112-114.
  4. Mauboussin, M. J., (2102). The Success Equation: Untangling Skill and Luck in Business, Sports, and Investing. M.A., Harvard Business Re-view Press.
  5. Taleb, N., (2010) The Black Swan. N.Y. Random House.

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