Career & Jobs

8 Tips To Thrive Amid Job And Career Uncertainty In 2021

“Sometimes if you aren’t sure about something, you just have to jump off the bridge and grow your wings on the way down.”—Danielle Steel

If you follow social media since the beginning of 2021, you might feel like going to bed and pulling the covers over your head. Long-standing research shows that chronic TV watchers and news followers have elevated fears because everything they see starts to feel like it’s happening outside their front door: insurrection at the Capitol, deaths and school closings from Covid-19, job deficits, remote working and self-distancing, shortage of coronavirus vaccines, ice storms paralyzing the country, people without power and water. Is your heart slamming against your rib cage yet?

It’s easy to freak out when we experience hardships that come suddenly out of nowhere. Our minds start to automatically wonder, “What’s next?” The key is to remain level-headed, sensible and avoid stressing out with uncertainty. Due to its disdain for uncertainty, our brain invents all sorts of untested stories hundreds of times a day to keep us safe. Your boss doesn’t respond to a text, a colleague wears a frown and uses a certain tone of voice or you’re not included on the list of finalists for the position. If you’re like most people, you assume the worst and over-personalize the event. Our brain will do almost anything for the sake of certainty—even take made-up worst-case assumptions as fact—all in the name of survival.

Too Much Safety Limits Career Success

The brain’s hefty responsibility to keep us safe means it hates life’s inevitable uncertainty. That’s why so many of us meltdown right before a big interview or presentation to our colleagues or why job deficits can cause a greater toll on our mental health than actually losing a job. When certainty is questioned, our brain goes haywire, instantly kicking us in the pants in an attempt to spur us to action and get to safety. Waiting for certainty can feel like torture by a million tiny cuts, and we’re consumed with anxiety. Will I contact the coronavirus? Will the MRI reveal cancer? Will I get the job? Who’s in the house when the alarm goes off? Our serenity is compromised—but hey, at least we’re safe, right?

Safety doesn’t equal career success or happiness, though. Safety equals safety. Period. It’s more stressful wondering if you’ll get to your meeting on time than knowing you’ll be late. It’s less anxiety-inducing to know you’ll divorce than being uncertain of it. And it’s more fearful not knowing if you’re going to get sacked than knowing for sure you lost your job. Research shows the brain even prefers physical pain to uncertainty. British researchers found that study participants who knew for certain they would receive a painful electric shock felt calmer and less agitated than those who were told they only had a 50% chance of getting the shock.

8 Tips To Cope With Uncertainty

1. Surrender to the unknown. “Dancing With The Stars” champion, Julianne Hough, is a huge advocate of embracing uncertainty and says surrender to it helped her find success. “To embrace uncertainty, to surrender to the unknown, as hard as that may be, I believe that’s where the magic happens,” she said. “If we already know what we want, we’ve already set a limitation for ourselves. When you go into the unknown, you go into the light, the complete uncertainty and you have no idea, but that’s when you can create ultimate possibility.”

2.Develop uncertainty tolerance. If uncertainty is unacceptable to us, we amplify our fear and end up at war with ourselves, resisting and arguing with life rather than living it. If we accept it, we relax into it, which reduces our stress. Notice who or what you’ve tried to force, resist or cling to. Then consider accepting whatever you’ve fought against. Take a deep breath, spread your arms, and imagine welcoming the unknown with an open heart, as you might a lantern guiding you in the darkness. See if you’re able to accept the unknown—no matter what—and use the unpredictable outcomes to cultivate a growth mindset and thrive fully in the present moment.

3.Keep an unmade mind. Our perspective in the New Year is the most powerful thing we can control in situations beyond our control. When our mind is already made up with fear or worry before new experiences, we add insult to injury—another layer of stress. Unmaking our mind of expectations opens us to receive the teachable moments in each new experience. Buddhists call it the “beginner’s mind”—being open to many possibilities instead of closed to all but one. For every situation, there are numerous possible outcomes. By learning to be okay with “maybe,” we become more comfortable with uncertainty and open ourselves to possibilities.

4.Keep your focus on what you can control. When you’re faced with uncertainty, focus on things around you that you can control and make a difference. Focus on the your personal resources: staying healthy, getting ample sleep, exercising, meditating, eating well and establishing strong social supports. Remind yourself how they provide an opportunity for you to stay grounded. When was the last time you soaked in a hot bath, meditated, or got a massage? Make a 15-minute appointment with yourself and schedule personal time to maintain resilience.

5.Turn unknowns into adventures instead of problems. Just as there’s a fine line between good news/bad news, there’s a fine line between excitement and terror. On autopilot, our brain lures us into looking at unknowns as threats or problems that need solving. When we flip that perspective, we can turn the situation into an adventure or challenge. That outlook automatically expands our perspective and welcomes in possibilities and solutions instead of eclipsing them with problems. We feel excitement instead of fear. Studies show that this perspective shift makes us feel empowered instead of victimized by uncertainty.

6.Find the upside in a downside situation. Yes, things are going be different in what is being called “the new normal,” but we can ask ourselves if it’s the unknown event itself or the uncontrollable and the uncertainties that scare us. Our best strategy is to find the opportunity in the difficulty, the upside to a downside situation, the solutions nested in the problems. And make the best of inevitable situations one step at a time, one day at a time.

7.Take chances. Avoiding uncertainty may help us stay safe and sound, but the cocoon our mind constructs can be a virtual prison. The same assumptions that keep us safe prevent us from career growth. Perhaps you say you want to lose weight, but you’re afraid of your inability, so you continue to overeat. You say you want to make friends at work but find a reason to turn down every opportunity to connect. You claim you want career success, but refuse to get out of your comfort zone, stick your neck out and take that next step.

8.Live by the motto “uncertainty doesn’t equal negativity.” The brain automatically associates an uncertain situation with a negative outcome. When the mind expects threats and problems, it will find them. Compliments sail over our head. Negative experiences trump positive ones. Successes are flukes and failures are living proof life is against us. We start to feel more comfortable with negativity, and the paradox is our mind creates the exact negative outcomes we want to avoid. Every down has an up; every right has a left; every bottom has a top. When we stop to think about it, many gifts nested in uncertainty await us. Think about how many times in the past you predicted a negative outcome, and it turned out to be a boon, hence the old saying, “Every cloud has a silver lining.”

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