For a number of years now, I’ve heard people talking about how unpredictable
business has become; with the implied assumption that one of these days, the
unpredictability will finally end, or at least, level off, and we’ll return to
a generally predictable environment. Well, from everything I see and
experience, that ain’t ever going to happen. Unpredictability is here to
stay, and the implications are sobering.
First and foremost, is the fact that we have unequivocally entered the Age
of Self-Doubt. I have never, in my professional life, worked with and
encountered so many talented, highly skilled, and successful people, who are
haunted by self-doubt. People, who prior to these times, made one
decision after another, with a great sense of clarity and certainty, now
second-guessing almost everything they do.
Everyone, at times, has some doubts; but now the experience seems to have
become endemic and epidemic. It has become a part of our daily lives and
our ongoing personal and professional experiences. So how do we deal with
and come to terms with it? First, we need to realize that we are not
alone with this feeling. It is shared by all of us, and has become a part
of the global consciousness.
Second, we need to look at and assess our inventory of life skills to
determine what personal assets we have that will help us do well and flourish
in this environment, and what deficits we’re going to have to work on. In
terms of the skills, here are some of the most important:
We need (and we need to surround ourselves with) people who can live in and
perform in, the moment. We can no longer accommodate colleagues who live
in the past, or are always anticipating the future. This requires the
ability to grieve well – to be able to say goodbye to what we used to do, and
who we used to be – and the ability to realistically assess the present and
come to terms with what it is, not what we’d like it to be. In other
words, we need to give up our “hope trips.”
We need to be life-long learners and come to terms with the fact that we’ll
never be “finished’ with working on ourselves. To be able to do
this, we need to be open to feedback, and open to constantly increasing our
self-information. One of the things we need to stop doing is to defend
our position, and act like we’re on trial. We need to get a lot better at
listening to the feedback we get about who we are; and to ask ourselves if what
we’re hearing makes sense, and how we can use it to improve ourselves.
We need to develop an emotional compass that allows us to stay centered and
focused, in the face of ambiguity, uncertainty, and unpredictability.
That is, the ability to stay with the task at hand, knowing that there are no
guarantees in the near or distant future.
We need to look at our need for control, and our level of trust; and work to
establish the best ratio between the two. In an Age of Self-Doubt, the
temptation to increase control is heightened, and the tendency to lower one’s
trust is increased. What we need, however, is just the opposite.
High control and low trust dramatically inhibits our ability to grow and
increases anxiety and tension. Low control and high trust allows us to
mediate in this “new normal,” without driving ourselves crazy.
We need to be able to talk about our feelings, in real time.
Especially when those feelings are about our worries and concerns. It’s
hard to convince people (especially business people) that talking about things
that worry us, or situations that suck, helps us get through them, and defuses
the anxiety associated with them. We don’t need to always fix or change
things that bother us; but we do need to talk about them, in order to feel
better and get things done again. Complaining is fine; as long as that’s
not all you do.
Arleah has a saying in her practice: “You don’t need to always
get your way; but you do need to always get your say.”
We need to talk about and face, with the people closest to us, our doomsday
scenarios. Businesses would get through a lot more of their problems if
they trusted themselves, when they’re facing hard times, to talk about the
worst case outcomes. Verbalizing the worst possible outcomes,
dramatically decreases the anxiety and tension surrounding them, and frees up
an amazing amount of energy tied up in circular worrying. It allows you
to identify the really important things in your life, and put the worries in
A number of years ago, I was talking with a client in southern California,
about the challenges he faced in the work he did. We were driving around
(in his Rolls Royce) looking at some of the shopping centers he was involved
with. What he did, was guarantee, through surety bonds, that immense
construction projects would be finished by a date certain. If they were
not, he would be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars. I asked
him if he had any trouble sleeping at night, knowing how much he was on the
line for. He responded, without any hesitation: “I sleep like
a baby. I’m worth close to a hundred million. After that, there’s
no more to get out of me. The worst thing that can happen is that I end
up poor. I’ll live through it.”
I have never forgotten his words. Arleah and I often talk about where
we started our journey together. We still remember that we got our first
TV by selling the puppies from one of our dogs first litters. It gives us
some perspective when we get caught up in worrying.