Tools & Skills Work-Life Balance

6 Ways to Gain Control in the Face of Uncertainty

Written by Miranda Pennington

According to John Tarnoff, consultant for Boomers over at The Huffington Post, most of us are dealing with a high level of anxiety and worry—whether we’re eyeing a diminishing pension or confronting yet another company reorganization. But it’s not all hopeless. Here are some concrete suggestions that can help you tackle the uncertainty in your life and learn how to move toward acceptance instead.

1. Accept your situation

My husband likes to worry—he frets about losing his job, losing the freelance work he does on top of his job, losing the remote if I don’t put it back in the little box he set up specifically for that purpose. My favorite response is usually, “And what if you do? What if something does happen to your job? What if you did lose that freelance work? What if the remote does fall off the couch and break?” I accept that upsetting things can happen—I know I’ll be worried and unsettled when they happen, too. But I also know we’ll bounce back. I can’t preemptively carry around all that worry. This is an uncertain time. I know it. He knows it. One of us has a positive attitude—the other is perpetually bracing for the sky to fall.

2. Embrace new hobbies

Once you’re not worried about what you need to prepare for, you have the freedom just to prepare for whatever interests you. More than anything employers want to see prospective candidates who have interests, passion, and knowledge they can bring into their new job in unexpected, exciting ways. If nothing else, you’ll be distracted—but best-case scenario you’ll uncover something spontaneous and fulfilling that will take you somewhere you never anticipated.

3. Write down your thoughts

This is huge, especially when you feel overwhelmed and bombarded on all sides. Write it down. Write down what you’re sure of and what you’re unsure about, what you know and what you don’t. Whether it’s as simple as making a list or as involved as a daily journal, try to record all the ideas that fluctuate through your brain in times of stress. When you page through it later you may notice patterns, goals, ideas in need of further development, or hopes you hadn’t even quite acknowledged to yourself!

I make a lot of flow charts when I’m stressed. All my fears may end with me alone and friendless in the woods but at least I can draw a box with a little arrow to lead me back to civilization.

4. Reach out to family and friends

Don’t withdraw from friends and family, colleagues, and classmates when you’re feeling uncertain. Don’t wait until you feel “normal” again to ask for help or bring close friends up to speed. This is a mistake I made often when graduate school was ending or when I was laid off from my first job—I retreated and didn’t answer my phone or my email for as long as I could (until the stress of evasion was as bad, if not worse, than the stress of confrontation).

When in doubt, engage. Even if only for a mindless night of movies and snacks, stay in touch. Share your game plan. Let them help you refine and strengthen your ideas.

5. Reach out to professionals

When your friends and family come up short, as even the most well-meaning sometimes do, it’s time to go to the professionals. It may seem like an unwarranted expense to pay a life or career coach, but remember what they’ve invested in their expertise. The resources they’ve accumulated as a result can be at your disposal for a fraction of that cost. Take advantage of support and encourage wherever you find it!

6. Keep expanding and evolving

Just because you’ve found a job or a place to pause doesn’t mean that’s the end of the line. Don’t take the easy way out or the sure thing when what you really want is a little further down the road. Let yourself give up old things and pursue new things. Breathe.

If you learn to relax, embrace the uncertainty, and depend on your strengths and your support network, you won’t feel so unsteady. You can breathe and build muscle memory so when a crisis does strike, you’ll absorb the shock instead of letting it sway you.

About the author

Miranda Pennington

Miranda K. Pennington is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared on The Toast, The American Scholar, and the Ploughshares Writing Blog. She currently teaches creative nonfiction for Uptown Stories, a Morningside Heights nonprofit organization. She has an MFA from Columbia University, where she has also taught in the University Writing program and consulted in the Writing Center.