“The only thing that is constant is change.”― Heraclitus
When we embark on the journey of chasing a dream, uncertainty will be our constant companion.
It’s natural to ask questions like, “How long will it take?” “Where exactly will I end up?” “Is this going to work out?”
But we may not have the answer to these questions, or at least not the answer we expect.
There will come a time on your journey where you start to doubt your success, feel lost, and want to run back to the old, safe, and familiar life you courageously left behind.
Alan Weiss and Marshall Goldsmith, in the book Lifestorming, call this transitional time period the, “Ambiguous Zone.” It’s the period of time between our current state and our desired state where we’re unsure of how things will turn out.
I’ve been in the ambiguous zone for the past eight months with my band – not knowing what’s next on my journey because much of it is out of my direct control. As the album is being finished, I’ve had to surrender and let go of my attachments to how the process should go.
It’s hard to remain confident and faithful during times like this. It’s hard to remain motivated and dedicated to the vision without tangible progress and a clear timeline.
I’m not nearly reading to throw in the towel, so I’ve had to find ways to navigate the uncertainty.
Here are six things I learned over the past 8 months that can help you through the ambiguous zone.
1. Don’t be a victim
“Accountability breeds response-ability.” – Stephen Covey
Have you ever felt like a victim to your circumstances? Like you were powerless to change what you didn’t like? It can feel this way when we’re in the ambiguous zone.
You’ll know you have a victim mentality when you start to blame others and point your finger for what you don’t like or what isn’t going well. Instead of trying to improve the situation or create new opportunities, we feel stuck and helpless, and tell ourselves, “It’s their fault we aren’t making progress!”
Even when an outcome is out of our control we need to stay accountable for our attitude and outlook. Don’t hopelessly sit around waiting for things to improve. Take ownership of your life and realize you have the power to choose a response.
2. Do what you can do
“Concern should drive us into action, not into a depression.”- Karen Horney
In my experience, uncertainty leads to confusion. When I’m confused I feel unsure about what to do to next. This can lead to doing a whole lot of nothing, which brings us back to feeling like a victim.
So let’s avoid that. Instead focus on what you have control over. Turn your attention to the next step you can take and forgot about all of the things you can’t change. What’s one thing you can do to make some progress?
Focus on other accomplishments to build momentum and get your confidence back. Be resourceful and do what you need to do to help you feel more secure through ambiguous times.
3. Become (or remain) an optimist
“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” – Helen Keller
If you’re like me, the longer things take to unfold the easier it is to doubt that what I want will ever happen. Without consistent tangible results it’s natural to lose the optimistic and positive outlook that we so enthusiastically started with.
To stay determined and motivated through ambiguous times you need to stay optimist and hopeful. If things aren’t happening at the pace you expected, and you’re growing more and more doubtful, it’s time to revitalize your vision.
Review your vision statement as much as possible and use affirmative gratitude to instill that you are who you want to become and that you have what you want to create. Don’t lose sight of the big picture during uncertain times.
Read this article if don’t have a vision statement yet.
4. Surrender to the unknown
“There’s a victory in letting go of your expectations.” – Mike White
Surrendering control has been one of the hardest things for me to do. To release control over what happens feels vulnerable and scary, but ultimately it’s the only way to achieve peace of mind during uncertain times.
The first step is to accept that certainty is an illusion. We believe we have control over much more than we do. The “secure” world you live in could crumble at any moment. You really don’t know what will happen. I don’t mean to be a fear monger, but when we can embrace this, we are free to surrender to a power beyond our measly self and to accept that we aren’t in control.
To surrender doesn’t mean you’re passive and stagnant. Do what you can to succeed and achieve your dreams but relinquish your attachment to the results.
5. Stay present
“If you aren’t in the moment, you are either looking forward to uncertainty, or back to pain and regret.” – Jim Carrey
When you start to worry about the future, or dwell about choices you made in the past you’re going to feel anxiety and stress. When we’re in the ambiguous zone this neurotic thinking will intensify. So, an important skill to develop is present moment awareness.
Observe and be aware of your thoughts, feelings, and physical experiences. To do this, think of your sensory awareness (vision, hearing, touch, etc) as a wide satellite dish, representing your full attention to what is actually happening – NOW.
This can help you stay engaged in today and not get too far ahead of yourself. You can’t make things happen more quickly than they’re going to, and you can’t turn back time and make different decisions, but you can stay centered and enjoy the journey.
6. Slow times are grow times
“Uncertainty is a very good thing: it’s the beginning of an investigation, and the investigation should never end.” – Tim Crouch
We can learn from every situation. When things are slow and stagnant it can be a perfect time for self-reflection and assessment. When you’re in the ambiguous zone focus on learning and personal growth.
Examine your habits and do a personal inventory of the choices you’ve made recently and the lifestyle you’re living. Check in with yourself to make sure you’re still on a path aligned with your values. Use the ambiguous zone as a cocoon to help you transform and blossom into who you need to become for the next phase.
Put it all together
You can’t go for an impossible dream and avoid the ambiguous zone, but you can be prepared to face it and overcome it! When you find yourself in the ambiguous zone, remember to stay empowered and take deliberate action. Focus on what you can control and keep living life. Reconnect with your vision and the greater purpose driving your dream.
At some point we all face uncertainty, and if we stick with it and keep learning and growing, we’ll build a bridge to our desired outcome.
Photo credit: David Marcu