The Certainty of Uncertainty

I’ve let a month go by without putting anything up here on The Coaching Conversation, but I have been writing, and reading, and working. I just have not been sure that I had anything to add to the greater conversation at this time. Many of my friends and colleagues are producing great content and sharing their wisdom and perspective. What a gift to the community of coaches. Much respect to each of them.

But, I have felt quiet and been quiet. When I thought about how to respond to questions about resilience or how to manage a pandemic, my response to myself: “I don’t know.” I don’t know if positive or realistic is better. If we need to get going, pivot immediately, make plans or just hit the pause button. I really didn’t know and maybe still don’t know. But…

I am starting to shift.

It’s OK to not know

First of all, it’s all right to not know. This is an unprecedented event in our life times and it’s effects on our daily lives, our livelihoods and the lives of others cuts deep. There is the loss of life and the loss of livelihood and the fear of loss that lives like a neighbor, sometimes next door, sometimes down the block and sometimes in the general area.

Why would I automatically know how to manage that and why would I expect anyone else to be able to provide an answer?

By taking a pause I have gotten much more comfortable with acknowledging I don’t know.

Get Comfortable with Uncertainty

What I do know is that uncertainty will be with us for awhile. We don’t know when there will be a vaccine. We don’t know how this is spread or who has it or when there will be a clearer path to treatment. We have no idea when there will be enough tests. We don’t know entirely who to trust with answers and trust is a precious commodity right now.

We are looking for who to trust and learning to trust ourselves.

Until the point that there are more answers we will be dealing with this virus and it’s cruelty to varying degrees on and off and steadily all at the same time.

We can guess when things will change, but we can’t be sure, so we live with uncertainty.

In the pause that I’ve taken, however, it has begun to resonate with me that we are always in the midst of uncertainty. We simply don’t recognize this typically. It feels like we build lives with the intention to know. We pay our mortgages, put money into retirement, pay for health insurance, buy life insurance, etc all to support an illusion that we are creating a safe and certain life. In reality the possibility of disruption and chaos settles in all around us even when we are in normal times.

Strangely this should give us confidence. We prefer certainty, but if we are always dealing with uncertainty then what we create depends upon our own ability to see this, manage it and create the positive vision we prefer.

You Have to Build Contingencies

My colleague, a former basketball coach, now leadership expert, is always talking about counters. Apparently this is a basketball term. Whatever your opponent does you gotta be able to counter it. I think in terms of contingencies, but it’s really the same thing.

One of the best ways to deal with uncertainty is to prepare for more than one scenario, outcome or result. If I’m a college coach I am preparing for different start times this fall, different training environments, and different season plans. I would even be preparing –only if mentally–for the possibility that there is no season at all.

Logically that means I’m re-thinking summer training. I am not just sending my typical summer plan out the door. I’m building a communication plan around the summer and fall and preparing for the possibility my budget is cut. I’m building networks, or deepening them in order to figure out what other people are thinking, what information they may have that will help, and how I can be helpful to them.

But when I build my plans and contingencies I am basing them on my own belief systems and philosophies. Based on what suits me and my program. I’m not copying and pasting someone else’s plan even if I am borrowing ideas and methods.

Be Confident

To do that–to build your own plan– requires a level of confidence. You may not be confident that you know everything right now, but be confident that you are prepared to manage this. Build that network. Reflect on what you believe in. Communicate frequently with staff and athletes. Create your counters and contingencies. Stay in the day and be a resource for your program.

As it unfolds consider the work you have done and respond appropriately. You won’t have figured everything out in advance, but you will have done the best you can under the circumstances. And that’s OK.

Beyond that, I just don’t know.

BTW, my long term plan is to be short-term helpful. Please reach out if I can be a resource.

Other things you might read:

How to deal with Anxiety of Uncertainty

Jonathon Livingston Seagull

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