One of the most common complaints I hear from my team is that our organization is seemingly always in a state of flux.
Every day is different, and major opportunities come and go at an often alarming rate. People crave consistency and tend to fear the unknown.
Fear of the unknown is, of course, a fundamental part of human nature; a vestige of our primitive past where playing it safe was a matter of life and death. While our society has evolved, this deeply embedded fear has remained part of the human experience.
In certainly understand my team’s frustrations here. After all, ideas and long-shot opportunities that have been percolating behind the scenes for a while can often look random when introduced to the larger team.
The reality of life in a small but rapidly-growing company is that uncertainty is simply unavoidable. Uncertainty and opportunity go hand in hand, and where there is uncertainty, there is also stress, anxiety, and frustration.
On the surface, this may seem like a net negative experience. It’s true that this sort of uncertainty often cripples people, sending them scurrying back to the safety of a less dynamic lifestyle.
However, I’ve found that a life of uncertainty can make teams stronger. As with most things in life, the more challenging path can lead to personal and professional growth in unexpected ways.
Polishing off the rough edges
Throughout my life, certain phrases and insights have stuck with me while other lessons have faded.
One such lesson came from a history teacher whose class I attended during my junior year of high school. I cannot remember the complete context of the conversation, but I will never forget the lesson she shared.
She spoke about how our personalities are like rough-hewn rocks, full of sharp edges and imperfections, which have been tossed into a river.
Just as rocks are slowly polished and smoothed by the constant flow of the river, our personalities are polished and refined by the constant flow of challenges and uncertainty that we contend with.
As humans, we recoil at the thought of discomfort. However, it is through discomfort and suffering that we grow stronger.
Growing both personally and professionally
While there is certainly value in discomfort, there’s no question that pervasive uncertainty tends to bring out the worst in people. Fortunately, each time this happens we have the opportunity to confront these tendencies and change.
On a personal level, I know that my type-A tendencies and anxiety often get the best of me.
The uncertainty of the entrepreneurial life has pushed these flaws out into the open and forced me to confront them head-on.
In Catholicism, there is a concept called metanoia, which means “change in one’s way of life resulting from penitence or spiritual conversion.”
I like to think of this as a lasting and meaningful change of heart that occurs when one confronts his or her demons. When we seek comfort rather than confronting own nature, we stunt our personal growth.
In business, embracing the discomfort that goes along with uncertainty leads to internal confrontation and, hopefully, growth.
I know that my personal confrontation and introspection has helped me grow as a father, husband, and leader over the past year.
I’ve become more compassionate, self-aware, and open with those around me. I have no doubt that this accelerated path to enlightenment, so to speak, was a direct result of having to face the challenges of our uncertain place in the world.
Had I taken a more comfortable path, I know that I wouldn’t have been forced to contend with these aspects of my personality as directly, and would have let them fester under the surface for years.
Living in the moment
Perhaps the most valuable side effect of dealing with uncertainty is the ability to live in the moment.
Throughout my life, I’ve always been looking ahead to what is next at the expense of the present. Looking back, I think that I’ve missed out on opportunities, both personally and professionally due to my constant focus on the future.
A good example of this happened last year when I was evaluating a deep strategic partnership with a much larger company.
I was so focused on trying to maximize value based on what could be that I lost sight of what we needed to do at the moment. The uncertainty of the situation took its toll on me, and ultimately nothing came of the arrangement.
I realize now that had I simply focused on the moment I was in, the outcome could have been much different.
Uncertainty and opportunity are inextricably intertwined. If you’re looking to make your mark on the world, you will have to learn to deal with the anxiety and stress of staring into the void of the unknown.
My advice to my team and any team struggling with uncertainty is to find value in the discomfort. Instead of collapsing, remember the parable of the rock tossed into the river.
The forces that push against you work to make you a smoother, stronger, and more well-rounded both personally and professionally.