By nature, human beings have fear. We have a tendency to avoid fear, to be saved from harm.
It’s a natural biological reaction of us toward dangers. There will be fears among us if we sense that they directly or vicariously affect us.
So we fear uncertainty. We assume that uncertainty is a bad thing . Because if something is uncertain, ones feel that they are left behind in an isolated island without knowing the direction. There are dangers everywhere.
Uncertainty makes us vulnerable. It causes us discomfort. We do all it takes to get stable to be certain about our life. If we don’t know what do with our life, we feel at loss.
However, nothing is certain.
Human beings are uncertain. Economics is uncertain. Nature is uncertain.
No one will know exactly what happens to the Earth, and our life 10 years or even 1 year from now.
How do ones expect that the Dinosaurs were extinct million years ago?
And strong civilians like the Babylon collapsed?
Uncertainty is the nature of life. Uncertainty isn’t bad as it seems.
How to embrace uncertainty
- (1) Being certain can yield more gain than loss
– First, we need to rewind our mindset. Being uncertain means that we need to reassess our choices, our assets. The obstacle is the way. Every bad thing has a chance in it. What relationship do we have now? What options do we choose to benefit ourselves? What change do we need to do to improve the situation?
– Being certain can be counteractive. We feel complacent with our life. That’s where we easily fall prey to our easy mind, to the unexpected things that could happen. For nothing is stable in this world.
Robert Greene has it in the 50th law book:
“The greatest danger you face is your mind growing soft and your eye getting dull.”
Nothing is certain.
Did Napoleon – the emperor of France know he would end the rest of his life on the remote island of Saint Helena while he was at the peak of his career – conquering Europe?
– Certainty can be a product of overconfidence. Of course, confidence is a valuable characteristic. It creates a motivation for us to work harder with more energy. But overconfidence is different. Overconfident people have overconfidence effects, which psychologists states that we deceive our mind. Our thoughts are colored by our overconfident emotion. We do not see the real things.
– Certainty locks us in a fixed system, which limits our thinking, which besieges our creative mind. Technology & science research would not have made immense-impact discoveries had they been certain. Scientists have been making myriads of trials & errors to bring in results. Steve Jobs’ s motto was that customers didn’t know what they wanted, and he had to guide them. And he created the entire new way of music listening with iPod, and touch phone trend.
- (2) Bring more options
“Optionality is a way to embrace uncertainty, to work rationally without understanding the future”.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb
In fact, the feeling that we have more possibility in situations, a future with prospects translates into more chances for us to take advantage of our life in the worst and the best time as well.
I’ll take career pursuit as an example. It’s an area where people feel uncertain most of the time. How do we get more options for a career ladder?
In the case of profession, it has been agreed that we need more assets, specifically appreciating assets. Focus on appreciating assets (health, skills, relationship, practical knowledge & experience), not depreciating ones (cars, luxury furniture, clothes). Though these depreciating assets can be a way to improve one’s status in a social life, don’t fall prey to lavish spending.
As a matter of fact, appreciating assets bring options.
In terms of skills, we need upwind skills. Skills that open up ourselves for more alternatives.
Paul Graham put it
“Upwind skills are things like writing, mathematics, design and programming. These skills take time to build (it’s better to start sooner rather than later), and they will keep your options open more than other areas of focus.
If you study mathematics, your knowledge and skills can likely be applied to dozens of fields down the road, depending on where your opportunities lie. If you focus on French Lit, your options will be limited.”
– But don’t fall prey to options:
More options don’t always mean good things. There’s always a paradox of choices. More options render our minds perplexed among too many things. What one should know is he doesn’t need average options. He needs open options (options that will generate more options).
- (3) Redundancy is an indispensable part of life
Redundancy saves us from harm, protects us from being the victim of uncertainty. Redundancy is different from options in that redundancy is like to insure yourself from harm while options mean more choices to deal with a situation.
Let’s give an example of redundancy. Say if we are fired, have you saved enough resources (finance, skills) to prepare for the next steps of your life? Say the our finance crashes, have you amassed enough funds not to be a victim of bad economics? While many have been totally crushed by the finance crisis, some have made a bunch of good investments during this time.
One good way to exert redundancy is assume the worst – a strategy of the Stoic. Looking at Nature and history, we’ll see thousands of examples epitomizing redundancy factors. Why was the pyramid of Egypt built so high compared with the sea level? Why do we have two hands, two legs, two eyes, two kidneys instead of one?
- (4) Positive. Positive. Positive.
Nothing is worse than a man losing his temper and making a bad decision. Nothing is more aching than someone who feels depressed and loses a sense of life. You can be uncertain, but still feel hopeful about the future. Not the other way by feeling uncertain, and still always feeling negative.
- (5) Bad decisions, regrets are not what they seem
One of the worst thing we think of uncertainty is that it can bring in bad decisions. But there’re no bad or good decisions in our life. There are mere decisions. Good or bad is what we perceive. And what we perceive can be affected by the external factors. Let’s say, our friends, our colleagues, the news, the social media (Facebook, Twitter). But don’t be such a casualty. Try to see the real nature of things.
Even if that is the worst decision you have ever made. But remember many times it’s the worst situation that we can learn the most. Just don’t be a fool to bet all of your money on a game, or risk losing your life.
And there are no such things called regrets.
Live the best with what we have. We can’t be right most of the time. We must be wrong.
Breathe. Let it go. Accept the change. And move on. That’s how life works.
As Marcus Aurelius said:
Here is a rule to remember in future, when anything tempts you to feel bitter: not “This is misfortune,” but “To bear this worthily is good fortune
The final thing I would say is that you can always prepare with options & redundancy. It’s a way to feel more serene. But always remember that uncertainty is the only certainty in life.
And I still don’t feel comfortable with uncertainty all the time. I only know what I can and cannot have. Making peace with uncertainty does require a fair amount of faith, and courage.
Life is to live the best with what resources one can have and that no matter what happens, he will find a way to get through it. We can be happy still without knowing all the answers.