Making Uncertainty Your Friend

I used to be scared of uncertainty.  I still do, sometimes.

Unknown is always scary — or at least so they have us believe.

Think about movies and TV shows that are designed to scare you.  You know the most scary part?

The anticipation.  The build up before you get a full glimpse of the threat, or the consequences.  Steven Spielberg openly admits that his mechanical shark not performing as expected was a blessing in disguise, as it forced him to hide the shark out of the view most of the time in Jaws.

But think about it.  Future is always uncertain.  Even the best-laid plans are not 100% infallible.

And therein lies the problem. 

Misplaced Trust in Plans

Here’s how it goes:

  1. You have some kind of expectation about the future.
  2. To maximize the chance of that expectation getting fulfilled, you make a plan.
  3. Because you have a plan, you expect the future to go according to the plan.  Your expectation grows, and so does your anxiety.

The more parts and details your plans contain, the more occasions for things to “go wrong.”  This can create the false sense that your “success” depends on the future unfolding according to your plan.  The more carefully laid-out your plans are, the more burdensome it becomes to you, because you have greater expectations and more details that are subject to “failure.”

Soon you become so wired to your plans, that anything resembling unplanned, unexpected, unknown events seems threatening.

This fear of uncertainty can stifle your life.  It will kill spontaneity and creates distrust of your natural ability to weather the currents of life.  Your faith is ultimately placed on an unreliable entity — your plans to manipulate the future.

You cannot succeed this way.

Embracing Uncertainty

Disappointment and failure occurs only where there is an expectation.  So if you hack at this root of the problem, you can cut down this sick tree.

But here is the tricky part.  I am not necessarily advocating that you live a plan-free life.  Some people are perfectly content to live totally day-to-day, happy-go-lucky, waking up every morning going “I wonder what’s going to happen today?”

If you are one of these people, bless you.  But the rest of us also want our life to add up to something.  We have intentions.  And we hope for the future to contain things that we hold dear.

How do we do this, without relying too heavily on schemes, strategies and predictions?

You do this, by focusing on the essence.

Here’s an example:  my current project/intention is to create a situation where I have time and space to work on my music and my business.

Notice how I put it, and how open the statement is.

This situation I’m trying to create, can manifest in many different ways.  I may borrow money from bank to afford the time I need.  I may find an angel investor/patron to fund the start-up cost of my music/blog business.  I may apply and win a grant from a private foundation focused on fostering innovative music businesses.  I may find a brilliant social lending site which will help me present my business plan to a pool of open-minded venture capitalists.  Or one of my blogs may take off, because I got featured on a national news for some fluke reason.

I am open to and exploring all those possibilities.  How my goal gets accomplished, I don’t know and it doesn’t matter to me.  But I am clear on the essence of my vision: time and space to work on my business.

I don’t have a plan, I don’t have a strategy.  I don’t even have a timeline, though I have a vague sense of time frame.

In the other words, there is very little in my vision of future that can fail.

Of course, the most crucial part still may not materialize.  I am naturally concerned about that.  But I am not worried about any other details.  I don’t get discouraged if I read that there are no venture capitalists for music industry.  I don’t get hung up on how to make a case to banks about giving me a large unsecured loan.  I do explore and consider those possibilities, but my future’s potential remains limitless, because I am not attached to a specific path. I do have some minimum requirements (I don’t want anyone in my family to die and leave me money to fund), but it’s limited to some far-fetched scenarios.

Because I don’t have specifics, because I am leaving a lot of things unknown — my future is filled with potential for the unexpected.  Instead of worrying about whether my plan is going to work or not, I simply hold on to my hope that something will work out, and that the solution may be something better or weirder than anything I could have imagined.  I remain optimistic and open, because I have cut down my vision to pure essence.  There is less to fail.

That’s not to say that I am sitting and waiting for something to happen.  I am exploring all of the above avenues actively, and out of the research rises possibilities that may merit pursuing more fully.  But even after I pick directions, I make sure that I remember, this can work out in many ways.  If the direction I’m pursuing turns out to be a dead end, I don’t get discouraged.  The uncertainty remains even after identifying potential paths — but it’s no longer threatening.

Don’t limit the future

The world is full of surprises, whether you have plans or not.  If you over-rely on details, those surprises seem like nothing but threats that can wreck your carefully laid-out plans.  Instead of filling all the empty, unknown spaces in your future with seemingly-necessary strategies, leave them open and mysterious.  Leave room for, and expect surprises.  This way, when unexpected things do come up, it’s easier for you to interpret and use that event as a positive influence on your life.

As you learn to leave your future open, you’ll begin to realize that uncertainty actually breeds more hope.  Because you don’t know how things are going to work out, you’re more open to the unexpected, never-could-have-imagined solutions.  In fact, if you are too attached to your pre-conceived notions, you may miss indications of those unforeseen paths to success.

Make uncertainty your friend, not your enemy.  And you’ll find that you’ll worry less, and achieve more.

And always be hopeful.


  1. That’s really interesting Ari. I do think that different people operate best under different conditions.

    I kept wondering as I was reading this, is he afraid of failure so he doesn’t make definite plans? It seemed that might be that case, but then I don’t necessarily think so for you. However, I do think that is why many people don’t make plans.

    I think it’s important to have an overall goal that you don’t give up on (like you are talking about), set up different options to reach that goal, go with the favorite one, break it down and pursue it. All this time, realize that anything can happen and that is okay. You still have your main goal and other options to pursue and a knowledge of what doesn’t work to aid you. I just think it’s so important to go into something realizing that anything can happen or come up and that’s ok. – “So what? What next?”

    Saying everything is going to go perfect is only setting yourself up for failure, and not setting yourself up for failure is a lesson that I teach about.

    I really liked how you brought up about the different options to reach your overall goal. That one makes me think a bit…

    Jennifer’s last blog post..Change Your Life One Thought at a Time – Part 4

    1. Hi Jennifer,

      Well, I think you are correct to think that I stopped making rigid plans because of fear of failure. Or should I say — I learned my lesson? 😉

      But as you can see, I wasn’t advocating a vision-free life. I was just trying to isolate the essence of one’s vision/objective/goal, and leaving the rest open. I do believe in “begin with end in mind.” But sometimes we need to figure out what is really that end we have in mind, and be comfortable with uncertainty as far as what the path to that end may end up being.

      For example, let’s say we plan a family day-trip. We have one coming up this weekend, to go ride a train. Let’s say we have a flat tire and miss the train. And that may be disappointing. We may sulk and say “ah! our plan is ruined” and go home empty-handed. Or like you said, we could go “so what? what next?” and go after the TRUE end we have in mind — which is to have a good time together as a family. The train ride was our planned way to get there, but that one not working out doesn’t mean all roads to our end are closed.

      It’s really about flexibility, and trusting in the unknown.


  2. Ari, did you get that example about the flat tire from me? 🙂 I use an example very similar to that when I am teaching people about not setting yourself up for failure. We really have to distinguish between the things we can control and the things we can not. Anything can come up and we have to always be prepared for that – I don’t mean at all to live a paranoid life – I think you know that and what I’m saying.

    BTW – I hope that you didn’t get a flat tire over the weekend. Hope it was great!

    Jennifer’s last blog post..Change Your Life One Thought at a Time – Part 4

    1. Jennifer,

      No, I didn’t — really? This is the second time in the last couple weeks someone tells me that my “original” analogies are already taken! 😉

      Nah, it must be a proof that great minds think alike. 😉

      And no, that was just an example. We had a great weekend.


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  4. Thanks so much for posting this!! I have been having a problem for some time with trying to fight against the grain to make stuff happen in my life; much to my frustration. i now realize that i have been too hung up about the details – everything must be according to plan or its a total failure! Thanks for the post! Continue doing your positive work! Stay bless and inspired!!!

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