We’re scared to death of the unknown. Nothing builds anxiety like uncertainty. Yet so much in our life is uncertain. So much of what we face we cannot see in advance. We can plan for it, but we cannot always see it.
The unknown keeps people in jobs that are a poor fit. The unknown keeps them in relationships that aren’t good for them. Fear of facing the unknown holds them back from growing into something that could be far better for them. This fear is crippling and stunting. If only some of us would take on the courage required and act despite the fear we all feel. Those who desire to get up and speak — get up and speak! Those who want to take on the new skill, embrace the uncertainty of starting something new and schedule that skill development. To those who desire to share their message despite the fear of being on camera and having to watch yourself over and over and over again: let the desire to share your message outweigh the fear of being on camera and the early brutality of watching yourself in HD. (Quick suggestion: if you want to get over yourself being on camera fast, edit your own videos.)
Our talents vastly exceed our display of them.
Much of embracing the unknown is getting out of our own way and acting despite the rut we’ve dug for ourselves. Our talents vastly exceed our display of them. Some of us deliberately play small, which is a shame. Playing small only succeeds in holding oneself back, sheltering us and those around us from our true capabilities. This is a bad strategy, especially when people need others who are willing and able to create and contribute and solve problems. Playing small allows us to shirk the responsibility of higher level strategy and execution, digging in and helping the mission along. Don’t play small.
Think through your fear of uncertainty.
You may be embracing the unknown already and not even realize it. If you have a 401(k), you’re invested in the stock market, a daily venture into the unknown world of investments. If you’re an entrepreneur, you also see and walk the unknown each day. If you’re a parent, while you see the impact your parenting has on your children, you also know there is a serious unknown component that comes along with parenting that scares you. If you’re a writer, then all of this already makes sense to you. See the scary, blank page you may already be staring into.
If you travel regularly, you already live in the unknown. Air travel is filled with unknown things and mysteries, even after you’ve been doing it for years. One enterprising pilot has made great attempts to demystify the air travel adventures with his blog series Ask a Pilot. So much goes on inside the cockpit during pre-flight and flight that passengers have no idea about. Then, you land. Onto the next adventure. Perhaps a new city?
When you’re new to a city, it is filled with wonderful and not-so-wonderful unknowns. What is your attitude toward that? Some people would choose to embrace this uncertainty with zest and hutzpah. Others, not so much. They’d want to be traveling with those who choose to embrace the uncertainty with zest and hutzpah. At least, they know they’d have fun in their misadventures. This is a great way to gauge someone’s ability to embrace the unknown: how do they react when they’re lost in a city? Are they cool and calm or do they lose it? Do they believe in their ability to figure things out or do they capitulate and pout? While it should go without saying, It is OK to get lost in a new city. A lot of us get lost in our own cities! And we would really be lost without the Map app on our iOS devices. We haven’t even gone anywhere new, and we still get lost. This might be considered the unknown unknown — we didn’t know what we didn’t know.
Embracing the unknown is a wonderful leadership trait. Leaders encounter the unknown all the time. They cannot see perfectly into the darkness. They don’t possess a seeing gift. And yet they choose to push into uncertainty. Even if it scares them, they still push through. People follow those who act despite the fear. They follow those who see a need and choose to fill it.
Look at the unknowns the entrepreneur embraces. She doesn’t know how the market will react to her offers. She doesn’t know pricing elasticity or what is the highest price the market is willing to pay. While she has a solid grasp of her products, she doesn’t know for sure how the market will like them. Will people buy? Will the marketing campaigns work? Is Facebook the right platform for her? Do print ads still work? How about email? The entrepreneur must face many unclear decisions each day, a complete embrace of uncertainty. For those who desire nearer certainty in their professional lives, entrepreneurship isn’t for you.
Look at all the unknowns on the battlefield. Soldiers have to face these threats and this darkness daily, multiple times per day. While they train for it, they cannot train for every potential encounter. They really don’t know what they’ll see in the field. They’re scared, and yet they still act despite it. They carry on. They hold the line all tour long.
The ventures into the unknown we take, the more these energize us like an adventure. We start to get good. It doesn’t take long because there isn’t much competition in the unknown. Most people will tell you they are fine right where they are, thank you. Even if they’re miserable. The unknown is a tough sell. But those who choose to embrace its dark qualities set themselves up for serious skill development. Moving into the unknown builds character, courage, creativity, leadership, tenacity, resilience, and often first mover advantage. These are traits and skills we can all work to build.