I recently talked to a client about the work she’s doing.
She is in HR, and she found a dream job where she is using her creative mind to improve employee engagement and build community.
It is a joy to listen to her talk about the ideas she is implementing and the wonderful relationship she is building with her boss.
She told me that she is a little apprehensive as she moves forward in her career, because so much of it is new to her. She had been doing human resources work, but without the label, before she found this opportunity. She sometimes feels like an imposter.
She also feels somewhat out of control at times. She lives with a certain amount of the Unknown, since, as many of us learn, building a family comes with a lot of variables. (Oh – I should mention that she is about to have her first child. And she and her husband also just moved to a different city. She is now working remotely.)
So, this has led me to think about uncertainty.
If COVID taught us anything, it is that we know only what we know at any given moment, but we need to believe something, or we feel completely rootless and directionless.
The reactions to the isolation and lack of control that have permeated the planet have been catastrophic.
But it’s not all bad news.
Uncertainty can also be a good thing. Not knowing is a driver of discovery.
I ran across a podcast by the humanities college at EFPL, a Swiss technical university, in which scientists discuss the role of doubt and uncertainty in their work.
The short version is that skepticism “provides a crucial stimulus” for research. The scientific process is rooted in doubt. Scientists suspect something is true, but they have doubts about it, so they test their hypotheses, get results, but don’t quite 100% trust them, and they do more research and test it again.
Even if the answers finally seem conclusive, there is always some percentage of doubt. Tomorrow, someone could come along and revise the findings. And that’s okay. That’s how discoveries happen! Without this permission to explore, nothing would get solved.
And the same is true about our own life paths. Nothing in our lives stays the same. We are always changing. To cope with that, we have to give ourselves permission to explore, or remain trapped.
This isn’t easy, especially when it comes to our careers. So often, my clients express their fear about taking a step beyond what they already know; what the degrees on their diplomas say; what they have been doing for a while; what they are known for doing.
And yet, they know they have to do something, because internally, they just don’t feel exactly right. Even many people who have quit during the Great Resignation still are feeling uncomfortable with that decision to step into the Void.
But wobbliness is actually a good thing. I view it as the gateway to discovery. It’s a sign that you are open to possibility and that you are ready to challenge yourself. Being uncomfortable means that you are not complacent, and you are ready for a change.
Here are some things you can do if uncertainty has you in its grip:
Give yourself permission to explore. Start with a simple list. What do you imagine yourself doing? Forget the salary. Forget the training required. For now, just write down what you see yourself doing; what you hear yourself telling your friends that you’re doing. Allow yourself to see it and make it real in your mind.
Take the leap and check it out. Read about the areas where you envision yourself working. Talk to people who are doing that work right now. Tell your close friends and professional mentors what you are considering.
Find out how you can make it happen. Compare your skills and achievements thus far with what’s expected in this new role, and see where you might already match up. Got gaps? What’s needed to fill these? It might be doable!
I’ve done all of these things myself, and as you keep reading this column, you will find out a bit about what I did, how, and what happened, and what’s next! (I’m still exploring.)
But in the meantime…
Here are some things my client is doing to prepare herself for any professional moves she has to make:
1. Networking with people in her industry. She joined an industry organization, made new friends, and keeps in touch.
2. Mentoring. She has been shadowing her boss to learn new skills.
3. Staying curious and learning. She is taking courses in her field and starting a certification program.
But more than all of this, she is staying open to possibilities and recognizing that she might have to shift her decisions, and it’s okay.
She is optimistic that all this will lead her somewhere great. I am, too!
I’m confident you can easily pivot and find your Next Great Thing, too! Just let go and let yourself embrace uncertainty. You probably will be surprised at what you discover.