These are certainly uncertain times. We do not feel like our usual selves. I am a bit lost. “Where to turn? What to do? How to feel?” Nothing seems quite right.
I have several partially-completed essays, yet none seem appropriate to post today. I have been reluctant to write: “How do I even write something that is relevant today?” I have been so focused on the virus, anything else seems trite. “Why bother others during this difficult time?” I wonder.
For my own well-being and in an effort to help others, I am sharing my thoughts on uncertainty.
I feel more lost today than any other time I can remember. During the global financial crisis, I was starting my career in finance. The world was uncertain, but I was focused on doing good work to preserve my job and gain experience during unprecedented times. Towards the end of my days at my hedge fund job, I was uncertain about what to do next, but I was certain I had to move on. In my year of travel and self-discovery that followed, although my next destination was uncertain, I was certain of my new trajectory.
Yet today, I feel more uncertain and lost than ever before. How could that be?
In my previous periods of uncertainty, either I anticipated it looming, or I chose to step into it. It was gradual. I could plan, strategize and weigh alternative courses of action. My expectations of how things would play out were gradually and continually re-calibrated. As a result, a stumbling block did not throw me off course.
Today, I feel more lost because my expectations were rocked in a span of weeks. I did not foresee the severity of our circumstances. Unlike in past experiences, I was not able to foreplan for this one. The impact was so sudden. It feels like I was robbed of my future endeavors. All my discipline and hard work did not matter; my goals would have to change for reasons beyond my control.
That hurts, regardless of the goal.
My original plan for this year was to devote myself to running, writing and investing. My running goals were to run the Rock N’ Roll DC Marathon with the 603 members recruited to the Run Stronger Together team on March 28, run the London Marathon on April 26 in under 3 hours, and then run a new personal record at the Chicago Marathon on October 11. My writing goals were to publish one essay a month and refine my writing style. My investing goals were to engage with founders and CEOs, and advise them with the aim to be asked to invest in their businesses and lay the foundation of an investing firm.
These goals were rapidly dismantled.
All marathons were cancelled. I spend nearly 20 hours a week training. Training clears my head and keeps me energized. With shelter-in-place edicts, I am uncomfortable running outside. With no marathons to train for, why push so hard? By losing my marathon goal, I lost my running purpose.
Writing seems futile. With hospital wards full of patients, millions of people unemployed and health care workers risking their lives every day; writing about my problems seems trivial. Why bother to even share this essay? My writing seems to have lost its purpose.
An investing firm seems unrealistic now. With the market's sell-off and a significantly altered financial position, the prospects of building an investing firm seem distant. My sense of purpose has been compromised.
My expectations and goals were radically changed, which caused me to lose my sense of purpose and ultimately made me feel lost. By losing my direction, my productivity halts. I feel helpless, not knowing what to do with myself, not knowing how to contribute. The endeavors I found purpose in have either gone away or seem irrelevant. What makes me feel like me, my ability to grow and contribute, is undermined.
Yet here I find myself writing.
Feeling uncertain means not knowing what the outcome could be. The degree of uncertainty faced today is unlike any other I have experienced because it permeates all aspects of my life for an indeterminable period of time. My professional ambitions are jarred. My athletic pursuits cancelled. Besides being with my girlfriend, personal connections feel distant. Certainty in all aspects of life makes for predictability. Certainty in some aspects of life and uncertainty in others can be exciting. I strive for that balance. Uncertainty in all aspects of life is daunting. I have dealt with uncertainty in one discrete aspect of my life at a time. Historically for me, uncertainty in one aspect was buttressed by certainty in another. I could make realistic estimates and plan outcomes. I was excited by the opportunity. This time it is different. I did not ask for this uncertainty across nearly all aspects of my life for an undefined period and am not excited by it. And I cannot devise a plan to change its trajectory. Today’s uncertainty is out of my control.
I do not have the answers to regain my direction and purpose. But I do offer a framework. Perhaps, if I first accept my uncertainty. Second, I reset my expectations relative to my current situation. Third, I appreciate my current environment. I could then become more comfortable in my uncertainty and in a position to create a new purpose. Armed with a new purpose, I could rediscover direction.
First, accepting uncertainty: the sooner I can accept that life will not go back to the way it was after this passes; the sooner I can accept the uncertainty of my situation. By doing this, I can forge a new direction forward instead of relishing what once could have been. Alternatively, by holding on to outdated expectations, I am a prisoner of the past. Those old expectations are the source of my frustration and of me feeling robbed and lost. By relinquishing them, I can adapt to what may lie ahead.
Second, resetting expectations relative to my current situation. Uncertainty lies in the gap between my current situation and my future expectations. The wider the gap between my current situation and my future expectation, the greater the degree of uncertainty. At times, the gap can be motivating. But too wide a gap, too big a leap, too big a risk of failure, and the uncertainty is paralyzing. To reduce uncertainty, to take the leap, to stay motivated, I need to narrow the uncertainty gap. To do so, I need to reset my expectations; my old expectations need to be recalibrated to my new environment. A few weeks ago, it would have taken a big step to reach my expectations. For example, running the London Marathon on April 26 in under 3 hours. Rebased at today’s environment, it would take a gargantuan leap to achieve that goal. It would require me making up weeks worth of lost training and the marathon miraculously occurring as scheduled. I need to reset my expectations back to a motivating big step, instead of being paralyzed by a gargantuan leap. My new expectations can serve as a springboard. But I need to accept that things will not play out as I originally planned.
Third, appreciating my current environment. It is important for me to appreciate that I am incredibly fortunate. My basic needs are not compromised. Although I am socially distancing, I am virtually surrounded by loving family and friends. I am grateful not to be alone and to be supported through this time of uncertainty. Many others are not as fortunate. Countless people have been rocked by a sudden shock to their expectations; be it a financial hardship, a death, a war. My dose of uncertainty pales in comparison to these, but it has made me more empathetic to the struggle of others.
I am putting this framework to the test.
I am aspiring to accept that things will not return to how they were. I am working on releasing myself from the shackles of my old expectations. I am resetting them instead. I will continue to devote myself to running, writing and investing but my new goals during this period of uncertainty have changed:
By accepting and appreciating my current situation, I believe that I can more adequately deal with the uncertainty of these times. By resetting expectations and setting new goals, I can hopefully regain my direction and purpose. With direction and purpose, I can continue to grow and contribute in these challenging times.
If this essay resonated with you or you have ideas to share, please reach out.
Stay tuned as I put this framework into practice and share additional insights
I turned 35. With luck and continued good health, I have now probably lived 1/3 of my life. I picked up a few things from my 35 rotations around the sun.