Yesterday my son asked me if he would get to start college this fall. I don’t know, I said.
Nor do I know when I’ll next be able to speak at a conference or go to dinner with friends. Much less to a concert or sporting arena.
The hard truth is that no one knows when we will be able to get back to work or school or life. And harder still is that even when officials declare this crisis over, the life we “get back to” will not be the one it was.
As a committed optimist, I appreciate this all sounds very pessimistic. I don’t mean it to. I just believe it’s the new reality of our lives.
We are all facing a future that is mired with uncertainty. Whether we like it or not.
Of course, no one enjoys uncertainty, even at the best of times. As cognitive neuroscientist Archy de Berker writes, “Knowing for sure that your plane is canceled can be less stressful than being kept in nervous suspense as it is repeatedly delayed.” Right now it’s not about what might be canceled that’s unsettling us; it’s about when everything will be uncanceled.
In the meantime, we have to figure out how to navigate the uncharted landscape ahead, while also managing the anxious feelings the uncertainty triggers.
We are, after all, emotional creatures, wired to emote before we can even reason.
The answer is as simple as it is painful—we must embrace the discomfort of this moment and lean into the truth that the only way out is through.
As someone who is passionate about helping people live braver lives, I’ve truly had to walk my own “brave talk” in recent times. Over the last few years, I’ve faced immense uncertainty as my husband Andrew has been relocated around the world by his employer, resulting in our four children being spread across the globe. In recent weeks, my feelings of vulnerability dialed up further when he was hospitalized for COVID-19. (While still in the hospital and testing positive for the virus, I’m grateful to report he is making a recovery.)
The day after his hospitalization, I felt decidedly ungrounded, like the rug had been pulled from beneath me and the floor pulled beneath the rug.
So I doubled down on the rituals that always strengthen me. I got out my journal, wrote down how I was feeling and asked my “inner sage” for guidance. It came back loud and clear.
Trust yourself. It will be OK. You will be OK. You have everything you need to rise to this moment and all those to follow. So step into your purpose, own your power and show up as the person the world needs you to be.
I did just that, pouring my heart into writing and getting back on purpose in my work, all while allowing myself to fully feel my feelings, including the most uncomfortable.
Prioritizing time every single day (sometimes multiple times a day) to anchor myself to my deepest values hasn’t changed anything around me, but it has changed everything within me—connecting me to a deeper sense of my own power and expanding my bandwidth to rise to whatever challenges unfold in the uncertain days, weeks and months ahead.
The same power is available for you.
Unable to skim busily through our days, this upending of the predictably of our lives is compelling us to dig deep and confront a whole raft of uncomfortable emotions we’d sooner avoid.
Yet by allowing ourselves to lean into the uncertainty of this moment—to feel our vulnerability all the way through—we unlock within ourselves new realms of courage and creativity, resourcefulness and resilience, that will serve us long after this pandemic has come and gone.
And so in the midst of this moment of unprecedented uncertainty and collective vulnerability, we have to make a choice between two fundamental options.
Option A: To rant against the awfulness of it all. To lay blame, soak in self-pity, numb down our feelings (“happy hour at every hour”), and let our “fear-casts” of worst-case outcomes ratchet up our stress.
Or (my recommended route)…
Option B: To look within ourselves for the certainty we seek; embracing the rawness of our emotions while aligning ourselves to the deepest values and noblest aspirations for our lives.
So if the uncertainty ahead has left you unsettled, the most important thing you can do is to take a few minutes to become fully present to whatever emotions you’ve been wrangling with. Own them. Label them. Notice where they’re constricting in your body and breathe into them. Deeply. Research shows that as little as 90 seconds of breathing into wherever we feel emotions sitting in our bodies can loosen their grip, activate the “thinking” part of our brain and help us harness our full cognitive horsepower to respond smarter.
Then, in the space that opens, decide to align yourself to your core intrinsic values.
Service. Integrity. Kindness. Community. Courage. Compassion. Purpose. Love. Hope. Family.
As I discovered while researching my book You’ve Got This! The Life-Changing Power of Trusting Yourself, anchoring ourselves to internal values like those listed above (versus external values like wealth and social status) helps us feel more centered—mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually—when the world around you feels shaky. In fact, a study by Stanford University found that operating from a place of “attitude certainty” acts a type of psychological safety net that bolsters our innate resilience.
By trusting in our innate capacity to meet each moment as it arrives, we reclaim the energy lost to those fear-casts, enabling us to bring the best of ourselves to the challenges at hand. To think more creatively, respond more constructively, connect more compassionately, communicate more authentically and lead more courageously.
When will this crisis be over?
It’s a natural question to ask, however the better one is:
How can I bring my bravest self to every moment from now until it is?
As I have written before, growth and comfort can’t ride the same horse.
As uncertain and uncomfortable as this moment in time may be, it holds a powerful catalyst for profound transformation, individually and collectively.
On the personal front, it holds a silent invitation for us to peel back the fears keeping us from growing into the full brilliance of the person we have it within us to become. Collectively, it invites us to transcend ego-dominated paradigms that keep us from coming together to create a better, braver world.
But first… discomfort.
It holds the key to the security you seek, to new beginnings and a brighter future than anything we leave behind.
Read next: 10 Ways to Cultivate Fearlessness
Photo by @lelia_milaya/Twenty20.com
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Best-selling author and mother of four, Margie Warrell is on a mission to embolden people to live and lead more bravely. Margie’s gained hard-won wisdom on building courage since her childhood in rural Australia. Her insights have also been shaped by her work with trailblazing leaders from Richard Branson to Bill Marriott and organizations from NASA to Google. Founder of Global Courage, host of the Live Brave podcast and advisory board member of Forbes Business School, Margie’s just released her fifth book You’ve Got This! The Life-Changing Power of Trusting Yourself. She’d love to support you at www.margiewarrell.com .