Sunday, June 06, 2010

Living With Uncertainty

My travel plans have been disrupted twice recently by volcanic ash, and it served as a potent reminder that no matter how much we try,  we simply cannot be in control of all circumstances that may impact our lives and schedules.

Whilst a decade ago advice about time management and work life balance focused on taking control, the times we are in now call for a different approach.  We live in increasingly uncertain and unpredictable times, and all the trends suggest we’d better get used to it. 

We may have survived the first wave of the recent recession and bank crisis, but now we have sovereign debt crisis,  deep spending cuts,  uncertainty about inflation and deflation and for many  a continuing period of job insecurity to deal with.  All this is to say nothing of the impact of climate change and its as yet unknown impact on the economy, food, water the lives and livelihood of many in the world.  It’s not so hard to reach the conclusion that the future is going to be different – it’s certainly not going to be “business as usual”.

So if the watchwords used to be “take control”, what are they now? Certainly accepting uncertainty is one key.  I was very frustrated when the ash cloud first disrupted my work schedule, but the second time it happened I’d already become more philosophical about it. 

A second key is agility and adaptability – being prepared to adapt ones plans, strategies and goals according to changing circumstances.  Even being prepared to adapt one’s lifestyle is going to be important. I know several people whose career consists of a series of international assignments. Every few years they up sticks and move with their families to a new country and a new culture. They’ve trained themselves to be able to adapt quickly to new circumstances that impact all aspects of their lives. 

Adaptability goes hand in hand with flexibility, which has an apt dictionary definition – “the ability to bend without breaking”!  In practical terms this means being able to adjust our time usage, work, schedules and priorities as they arise – and just doing it rather than getting stressed about it.

A third key is “readiness” and by this I mean being ready for anything, rather than just specifically prepared for certain situations. One international trouble-shooter I know keeps a bag permanently packed so he’s ready to travel at a moment’s notice.

But more than this readiness is an attitude. It’s to do with expecting the future to be different, anticipating and preparing where you can, and being ready to change, adapt and respond to the opportunity rather than the difficulties that the future will bring.

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