When I quit my job to start my own business, one of my mentors told me that I would have to learn to deal with uncertainty. According to him, it is relatively easy to open doors when we are younger – we study hard for an exam and are rewarded with a good grade; we perform at university and at an interview and get a job we want. But part of getting older and progressing in our careers is to experience that we cannot open every door. As an entrepreneur, he said, I would have to deal with this uncertainty on my own. No matter if I had business partners or employees, I would be the the owner who needed to make tough decisions on my own to deal with uncertainty.
Developing a relaxed attitude towards uncertainty has been one of the hardest things for me since becoming an entrepreneur. I am a control freak and letting go is nothing which comes easy to me. No matter if it is my work day, a meeting or even a holiday, I always plan everything ahead meticulously. But when you run a business, there are many areas which you cannot control. Will customers find your products worth buying? Will you finish product development in time? Will your investment pay off?
Since the outbreak of Covid-19, everyone has been facing uncertainty – to different degrees and in different forms. But uncertainty has become something common, it is not “exclusive” to certain groups. I read many articles recently written by psychotherapists who report that many of their clients struggle with this new uncertainty. It seems that now everyone is in the situation I was a few years ago. Everyone has to deal with their type of uncertainty on their own, maybe for the first time in their lives.
I personally am affected by these new uncertainties too. Professionally, I do not know when postal services will function normally again. Due to the suspension of passenger air travel, overseas shipments are delayed which affects many business who source from abroad or have customers in other countries. Moreover, I do not know when I can leave Austria to travel to my business partners. As I work with small artisan groups, personal contact is crucial. We are currently in touch via videoconferences and emails but nothing can replace physically being there. And at a personal level, I do not know when I can see my partner again. We are currently over 8,000 km apart. We do not know when I can fly to Thailand or when he can come to Austria.
The challenge of this pandemic is that this uncertainties have no time limit. They are not limited to the date when a product is finished or delivered to the customer, for example. Nobody knows how long we will be dealing with this situation.
What can we do about it?
First of all, there is nothing much we can do about the uncertainty itself. We need to sit it out. Therefore, try to stay calm. (Easier said than done, I know.) Since the start of social distancing, I had my ups and downs. On some days I am relaxed and do not think too much about it and on some I go down the negative spiral. For a control freak like me it is difficult to sit back and wait and not get upset about the news. I always have this strong urge about changing things. But in this situation, I cannot do much. Hence, I need to prioritize my own sanity.
Secondly, I try to focus on the things I can influence. For example, I worked on tasks about which I had been procrastinating for ages. I also worke d on with creative solutions about getting my products to Europe. I also stopped ranting, whining and discussing things on the phone with my friends. In the first weeks, we all obsessed about the pandemic because it was new. But the longer it has been lasting, the more I felt that there is no need to discuss it over and over.
Thirdly, distraction is key. I have started reading what I call “happy books”. I read the Chinese take on Sex and the City, biographies and “easy” novels. Currently, I am reading about Palazzo Venier dei Leoni – the home of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and the stories of its last three owners who were inspiring women. If reality gets me down, I can at least escape to a happy place in my mind. Additionally, I rediscovered nature. I have written about my walks in the forest in last week’s postcard.
Lastly, sometimes we just need to give in. If we fight against windmills, we need to stop and accept the situation. It is perfectly OK to take some days off, to lie in bed, read a book or binge-watch movies. Whatever makes you happy. In times like these we need to take care of ourselves even more. If you are only stuck at home without your usual social meet-ups, it may feel as if you are less productive or as if it was a lazy weekend. I pushed myself harder and harder because I thought I was not doing enough. But when I then looked at what I had worked on, it was more than enough.
Uncertainty is never easy. But what does not kill us makes us stronger. If you can deal with this uncertainty, you will grow and be able to master many future challenges.
Have a great week ahead!