The courage (and opportunity) to not know

It’s ‘Future’ month and we repost one of Philip Patston’s posts from the past, about having the courage to not know…

When it comes to the future, we’re pretty conditioned to expect certainty. Whether it’s what we’re going to say next, what’s happening tomorrow, what the outcome of a project is going to be, or what life will be like in five years time, we want to know beforehand. We crave certainty.

Expectations are the outcome of this need to know what’s going to happen before it does — and anxiety about things not going to plan.

I remember when I first started doing comedy in the late 1990s, I would script my routines down to the last word. But I was terrified I’d forget my lines. This anxiety made me forget my lines! I learnt, in the first couple of years of doing comedy, that I could hold subjects or themes in my mind, but not what I was going to actually say, word for word. Once I figured that out, doing comedy became infinitely easier and enjoyable. Also, if I may say so myself, I got a lot better at it.

On a similar note, I read a few years ago that, if you need to have a difficult or important conversation with someone, it’s far better to be really clear about the outcome you want than to rehearse what you’re going to say. The theory is that, if you’re focussed on the intent and outcome, your brain will make sure you say the right things. Not having a script allows you to fully listen and respond to the other person/people, rather than waiting for “your turn” to say what you planned.

It’s the same with work. I can’t count the number of times I’ve said yes to a client’s request to do something, only to go away and think, “How the hell am I going to do that?!” Yet, once I have become clear about the intended outcome, what I know and what I need to research, who I need to work with, etc., somehow things come together. I resist planning because I know the plan will change and, nine times out of ten, something better will emerge out of the process of actually doing it than I could have imagined in a planning process.

The recent situation with my new car came out of my expectation that driving it would be easy. When it wasn’t it threw me into huge anxiety and disappointment. Had I just sat with not knowing what it was going to be like, I may have saved myself a certain amount of angst that was based on the dissonance between my expectations and reality.

It takes courage to admit that we do not and cannot know what’s going to happen — it’s much easier to lull ourselves into a sense of security that we can create future certainty. It calls on our ability to trust ourselves and each other.

The cost of creating future security, however, is opportunity. When we strive to maintain certainty, we miss the possibility that exists in trusting our ability to learn, create and achieve outcomes we may never have been able to plan for or be certain of.

Working with diversity requires this commitment to future uncertainty. Opening ourselves to not knowing what will happen — and being aware of the latent opportunity diversity offers — is crucial to embracing and encouraging it authentically.

Fear of uncertainty limits the opportunity of diversity. Loving uncertainty unleashes diversity’s opportunity. It’s  a balance.

If there’s anything my business is about, it’s getting the balance right. 

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