Do you know exactly how much you're going to make next year? Whether you'll have a successful year or not? Of course you don't. You're an entrepreneur, and running your own business means living with constant uncertainty. Which sucks, if you're a person like me who hates not knowing the answers to all questions, such as what day will the next payment arrive and exactly what will this month's expenses be and what are we having for dinner the day after tomorrow?
This year, my need for perfect information about the future crashed into reality when my husband and I packed up our possessions and our cats, left our home of more than 20 years and set out across the country with a plan to settle...somewhere...in the Seattle area. It's a great move for Bill's music career so I'm happy to do it, but it's called up all my fears of the unknown.
How do you live with uncertainty? I've been pondering this question for more than 3,000 miles, across 13 states. Here's what I've come up with:
1. Even if you think you know the future, you really don't.
How many times in your life have you been going your merry way when something completely unexpected came along to knock you off your path? Family illnesses, new relationships, and unexpected business opportunities are just a few of the things that have forced or inspire me to abruptly change course. I'm betting you've had similar experiences, and maybe more so. We all already know it: Things often don't go as planned.
2. Neither does anyone else.
I once went to a tax foreclosure real estate auction where one of the auction leaders answered the question: How can you bid on a piece of property you haven't examined or inspected? Because nobody else who's bidding has either. If we're all dealing with equal uncertainty--and we are, whether we admit it or not--then at least it's a level playing field.
3. If everything's planned, have you stopped taking risks?
The more certain you are about the future, the less uncertainty you're allowing into your life. And that might mean you've been playing it safe (something I catch myself doing much too often). Don't let your need to know the future stop you from taking chances.
4. If everything's planned, have you stopped dreaming big?
Knowing everything that's going to happen may mean knowing nothing truly awful is coming your way. But it can also mean knowing that nothing truly stupendous is coming your way either. Embracing uncertainty isn't just about bad things that can happen.
5. You can deal with more than you think you can.
Will your business come crashing down? Well you're in luck: We're in a time when entrepreneurs who've started businesses and failed get much more respect than those who never tried at all. And even if you screw up, or something else beyond your control goes terribly wrong, you will be able to change plans, and adapt, and do something else. Rarely is failure ever the true end of the story. So don't let fear of things going wrong hold you back.
6. The journey is what matters.
We recently rented an old farmhouse and, just a couple of days ago, moved in. I was taking my first bath in my new home (a bathtub is the one thing I really insist on having) and I started wondering whether this will be a good place for us for the long term and whether we'll wind up buying this house which may be for sale someday. I wanted to skip to the end of the story to see how everything turns out.
And then I thought: Skip far enough into the future and you'll be dead. That's the end of the story. It's the beginning and the middle of the story that's interesting. Why are you in such a hurry to move beyond them?
7. Uncertainty can be...fun.
I don't often admit it but one reason I agreed to uproot everything in my life and move is that there's a small part of me that actually likes the idea of the unknown. Starting over in a new place means overthrowing all my old habits and skipping my worn grooves. It means exploring new places and playing out new possibilities. And that doesn't sound so bad.