Mastering Risk and Uncertainty: Walk Gratefully into the Unknown

"Even when we want to be timid and play it safe, we should pause for a moment to imagine what we might be missing." -- Paul Arden, author of Whatever You Think, Think the Opposite

Once at the height of the recession I was unemployed and the phone ceased to ring from a hiring manager eager to hire me. I happened to receive an email about an open interview for sales at a car dealership. I figured, why not? A voice in the back of my head told me: "Girl, you better do something before you get lazy and can't get out of bed to go to work." As I usually do, I listened to the voices in my head.

So I got the job. After being a VP of Sales for five years, I had more experience under my belt than ever as well as an MBA. Now I was making a whopping $8 an hour plus commissions as a car salesperson and working a minimum of 12 hours a day. I wouldn't exactly say I was a happy camper. Actually I would describe my state as that of total misery, yet also strangely grateful to experience firsthand how hard people work to make very little. I was living the lessons of Napoleon Hill as he so aptly stated in Think and Grow Rich, "Remember, no more effort is required to aim high in life, to demand abundance and prosperity, than is required to accept misery and poverty." As a matter of fact, I had never worked so hard to be so broke and unhappy before in my life.

I sure wasn't going to accept misery and poverty! Not for long that is. One day I walked off the job to decide what I wanted to do with my life. A little voice inside my head once again spoke to me: "Heather, you better fight for what you deserve and this, honey, isn't good enough." It also reminded me of what Hill said that, "the outlook from the bottom is not so very bright or encouraging. It has a tendency to kill off ambition."

About a week later, I walked back into the dealership with a copy of my resume in hand to sit down with the General Manager. I told him that I had decided to resign because the job did not fit my background. I proceeded to give him a copy of my resume which showed my accomplishments over the years. We shook hands and parted ways amicably.

I had won the battle and the war, yet I didn't know where I was going to get a better job. I didn't have any prospects lined up, but I knew staying in an environment with very low pay that grated on my self-esteem was worse than the alternative of the unknown. I walked out of that place with my head held high, knowing that I was seeking something better for my life. The icing on the cake was that a friend of mine from the dealership contacted me a week later to tell me the GM had mentioned my qualifications in their weekly meeting saying that, "She had the qualifications to run the place."

We long for stability, to know what the future holds around every corner, until stability smothers us with expectation -- nothing great or new happens. Uncertainty pushes the boundaries of our experience, sending us out of our comfort zone and into a place of fear. But in all the moments in my life where I have taken risks or am in the "unknown zone" -- not knowing where the next job opportunity will come from, not knowing whether closing one door will open another -- I certainly did not want a road map that showed exactly what was to come.

The best life, to me, seems to be the balancing act between stability and risk. We can push the limits of our existence, but there is never any guarantee it will work out to our expectation. But if we take what life gives us without any fight, floating by as a leaf in the wind, we may or may not like what we get either, yet in this case we have no input in actively shaping our lives.

This summer we vacationed in California's central coast. In the midst of peak season, knowing that all the campgrounds were likely booked, we headed off into the unknown for a scenic journey up Highway 1 on the California coast to Big Sur. We so pined for the redwoods (pun intended) that we drove up the coast hoping for a place to stay, knowing the odds were against us, yet open to an adventure. We stopped at every campsite and lodge along the coast to see if there was a vacancy (one did for the low price of $775 per night!). Finally, after passing one lodge in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, we decided to turn around and lo and behold, they had a room available that wasn't a fortune. Crisis averted!

When I left the car dealership, jobless but with my head held high, I didn't know how things would work out but I was determined to make a better life for myself, somehow, someway. When we went for an adventure in the car, driving alongside breathtaking scenery on the California coastline, we did not know where we would lay our heads that night, nevertheless we took a chance. There was some fear, but also exhilaration and excitement; wonderment about how it would all work out. It was exactly the fact that we did not know that made it so electrifying.

My experience tells me that mastering uncertainty is not so much about mastering it; it is more about embracing it -- the fear, the anxiety, the excitement, the unknown -- all the feelings good or bad, aware that without them we would know what the future holds at every turn and life would be predictable, boring, and repetitious.

Someone once said "life is a journey, bring lube." Maybe the lube of life is embracing the uncertainty, knowing that part of the fun (even in the fear) is the unknowing of it all. Question is, when in the midst of it can you learn to appreciate the anxiety, even if you don't love it, to just embrace it as part of the awesome, unpredictable journey of life?

I'm learning too, and man is it scary. But to know that the mix of fear and excitement is from the anticipation of your future unfolding with what's to come can be exhilarating. My stomach might churn, my brain might burn, but life in its infinite wisdom has something in store for me. And no matter how much I do or how many vision boards I create, it always has an unexpected twist ahead for me. Thank God! No pun intended.