I’ve faced a lot of uncertainty over the years, and it’s always unsettling. Some people love not knowing what’s coming next. Not me. I get uncomfortable if I can’t plan for at least the relatively near future.
Uncertainty happens to all of us at various points in our lives. Maybe you are graduating this year and are applying to jobs and/ or graduate schools. Maybe you are facing a potential layoff from your job. Maybe you are changing jobs or careers. Maybe you are going through family changes. Maybe you are an expat or in the military and your current post is ending soon but you haven’t received your orders for your next post yet.
I’ve been in nearly all these situations. Here’s what I have learned about managing uncertainty:
Control what you are able to: The main anxiety aspect of uncertainty, by definition, is that you don’t know what’s coming, and therefore you can’t control it. Help alleviate that anxiety by taking control of what you can. If you are graduating and your job seeking and/ or grad school application process is still up in the air, take control of your studies and get your best possible grades to finish out your degree strong. Similarly, if you are facing a potential layoff, do your very best at work. No matter what happens, doing well now will set you up for success in the next phase.
Accept what you can’t control: Submit your application, give a great interview, then move on. Don’t fret about their decision, because you can’t control that. When you do the best you can, you can let go a little by knowing you did all you could.
Have backup plans: This is one of the most important things you can do, in my experience. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Have as many irons in the fire as possible. For example, if your plan is to go to graduate school, it’s still smart to apply for jobs. That way if you don’t get in, or realize you can’t afford to go to grad school right now, you have job opportunities. And then if you start grad school (or a new job, or a different career path) and realize it’s not for you, you already have other options in the works and you don’t have to start from square one.
Prepare as much as you can: Especially financially, it helps to be prepared. Save as much money as you can to give yourself more flexibility; you won’t have to take the first job that comes along, so you can have time to get the job you really want. If you know a move is imminent (such as the case for expats or military families), start the move preparation process even though you don’t know your destination yet. Go through your belongings and clear out whatever you won’t move, and start organizing your shipments. This will help when things do start happening and will prevent you from having to make lots of decisions quickly during an emotional time.
There is no perfect situation: Be realistic with yourself and realize there is no perfect situation. Every outcome will have some drawbacks. If you have to make a decision, realize it will not be black and white. There will probably not be an obviously advantageous solution. Every choice has advantages and drawbacks; you have to decide what is best for you now.
Don’t forget to enjoy now: It’s easy to focus on stressing out about the future, and it’s tempting to sort of hold your breath and wait to see what happens. Don’t forget to pay attention to the present and enjoy now. Keep a gratitude journal or write three good things that happened each day to remind yourself of what’s going well. Get together with friends, enjoy celebrations, and focus on the good. Enjoy this phase of your life now, before you move on to the next one.